New year, projects new and old

Just an endless road.
Planning for the road ahead

Happy New Year!

We had a nice New Year celebration with my in-laws and then a much needed day of rest. I spent the day reading and listening to great music; I discovered a great recording of sacred works by Spanish composer Alonso Lobo (1555-1617).

It’s nice not to have a translation deadline breathing on my neck, and this also means that I can devote some time to a project which, God willing, shall see the light Real Soon Now (TM).

Hope you have also a great time of celebration and a good start for the year.

One case where Twitter is awful

This article in The Atlantic definitely struck a chord here.

This morning I was checking Twitter and I found in my timeline a gross, gruesome image. I won’t bother you with the details. I’m still reeling trying to “unsee” that stuff.

It turns out that a user which I follow retweet a link from a newspaper article which in turn featured such image. The link card generated by Twitter happily featured that awful picture.

As a matter of policy, in Twitter I unfollow any user who tweets or retweets any image with gore or graphic violence. I also want to report the posts, and there is the problem.

I tried to report the post and image as featuring graphic violence, but I got absolutely no option to do so. When I tried to report, I got this:

No “graphic violence” to be seen.

If I choose “It’s abusive or harmful”, this is what I get:

Still nothing about graphic violence. Of course, there is no option at all to blur the image.

Twitter is doing an awful job indeed. They need to seriously improve in this area.

Merry Christmas!

Manger scene at my mother’s house. Note the two Paraguayan coconut flowers lying at the floor. They give a pleasant smell. Another detail: Baby Jesus lies in a hammock, as per traditional Paraguayan customs.

Merry Christmas! I hope you can have a great Christmas Eve with your loved ones, a time full of joy and praise for the wonderful gift of a God who dwelt among us, the Word made flesh (John 1:14).

As customary, we usually receive Christmas Day by awaiting midnight with a big family dinner. As midnight reaches, some folks like to blow some firecrackers (4th of July pale in comparison to Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve here) and we exchange congratulations and, sometime, Christmas presents.

May God bless you. Thanks for reading this blog in 2018, and here’s to the best of time in the next year.

Long time no see

Hi there!

This year my blogging fell behind. I know it’s disappointing but my life grew increasingly busy.

For the first time, I began teaching theology, not in one but in two schools. Add to this the increasing demands from lawyering and translation, and you get the result: almost no time for writing.

Teaching was, and is, a great experience. I intend to blog about it as soon as possible. Stay tuned.

Switching to Firefox Quantum

The folks at Mozilla recently released Firefox 57, which is in fact a totally new engine and interface, known as Firefox Quantum.

When Slackware-current pushed the update, I upgraded and was pleasantly surprised. It felt a lot faster and lighter than Chrome / Chromium, and so I decided to switch to it as my main browser.

After some months, I’m now running Firefox 59.0.2 and I could say that so far it’s been a great ride. Switching from Chrome/Chromium wasn’t easy since I had invested a lot of time in getting the right plugins and addons for my needs. Worse, starting with Quantum, Firefox phased out their previous XUL-based addon model and switched to another known as WebExtensions, which was received with a lot of grumbling, to say the least.

However, I easily found substitute plugins and addons for Firefox and right now I could say that I’m a happy camper. Firefox now rides my Web surfing in a smooth, quick way.

It’s great to see Firefox back to its former glory. Or, at least part of it. Let’s hope it keeps evolving in the right direction.

Happy Reformation Day

Yesterday marked the 500th anniversary of the occassion where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on indulgences at the door of the castle church of Wittenberg. This event is considered the start of the Protestant Reformation.

Just to mark how different this year was from others, there were several events and conferences commemorating the date. Even churches which traditionally would not give the time of day to this date were almost forced to offer some kind of commemoration, with more or less success.

Sendas de Gracia - Conferencia 2017 (translation: Paths of Grace - conference 2017)
Conference logo (click to enlarge)

In the case of my church, besides the simple fact that it is Calvinistic, November 1st is its anniversary, and thus commemorating Reformation Day just comes naturally as a tie-in with the anniversary celebration. This year we started as a church a conference series, Sendas de gracia [Paths of Grace]. As the first year of this event and in view of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation, this year’s theme was “Footprints of the Reformation”. There were talks on the impact the Reformation made on communications, rule of law and education. The conferences were rounded out by a panel-debate on the impact of Reformed doctrine in the life of the local church. I had the privilege to speak on the second talk, on the subject of “Impact of the Protestant Reformation in the formulation of the Rule of Law”. All in all, it was very blessed.

In addition, the previous weekend I was invited by a Pentecostal (!) church to speak on the subject of “Grace Alone” (Sola Gratia), on Saturday; and I also preached at a Presbyterian church on the subject of “What Does Mean To Be Reformed Today” on that Sunday.

Well, that was hectic. Thanks God for all His blessings, and the opportunity to speak about His word.



A Useless Polemic

two fingers pointing at each other

Lucía Caram sparks anger in Spain after appearing to contradict Catholic teaching on perpetual virginity of mother of Jesus

Source: Nun receives death threats for suggesting Mary was not a virgin | World news | The Guardian

This news item was widely reported in Latin American media outlets. Given that the nun is an Argentine national and this continent has a large –albeit nominal– Roman Catholic population, the nun’s statements made quite an impact. As the quoted news report stated, the dogma of Virgin Mary’s perpetual virginity is a core Roman Catholic belief.

In social media circles, I saw a lot of Reformed and Evangelical commenters echoing this nun’s statements with approval, quoting passages such as Matthew 13:55-56. Of course, Paraguay being a largely Roman Catholic country, there was no time lost for Catholics reacting angrily against such posts, and the ensuing flamewars were not edifying (is there one that is?).

I understand the zeal of many Protestant Christians to expound and promote their faith, and to engage in polemics against those who they perceive to be in error, such as Roman Catholics. But such a zeal in this case this is misguided, and it is guaranteed to be counterproductive. It is not a contention for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). It is just useless. Let me explain.

For the Evangelical, the key dogma is that of the virgin birth of Christ; that is, Chirst was conceived and born from a virgin (Luke 1:27,34-38). However, for the Roman Catholic this is not the whole story: as stated by their tradition (a source of special revelation for Catholics) and stated by some councils, the perpetual virginity of Mary is a key dogma of their faith. The Virgin Mary not only was a virgin when Jesus was conceived; but she stayed a virgin throughout her life.

It should also be taken into account that Roman Catholics put Mary and her “purity” in a very important place. The nun quoted in the article may have a point or two in that regard, but this lies outside the scope of this post. My issue is that this dogma is highly sensitive for many Catholics and this should be taken into account.

But it might be asked: how could texts such as Mattew 13:55-56 be reconciled with the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity? How can you say that Mary stayed always a virgin in the face of that? Well, on the subject of Jesus’ family there are largely three options:

  1. Jesus’ brothers were actually His brothers, children of Mary and Joseph with Jesus being the firstborn. Some even think Romans 8:29 echoes this. This interpretation is consistent with the natural sense of the text; but for Catholics this is problematic since this would imply that Mary did not remain a virgin after giving birth to Jesus.
  2. Jesus’ brothers were His half-brothers, children of Joseph but not of Mary. In this interpretation, Jesus’ brothers are children of Joseph and some other woman in an earlier marriage. Joseph is seen as a widower, with a significant age difference with Mary. This interpretation, which I read is common in the Orthodox Church, could be consistent with Mary’s perpetual virginity.
  3. Jesus’ brothers were actually His cousins or some other close relative. Catholics allege that ἀδελφοὶ (brothers) is usually a Semitic mode of expression for relatives. Just as Jesus was called “Son of David” not because Jesus was an actual son of King David but his descendant, people also called “brothers” to his close relatives, which could be His cousins or men with a close degree of kinship to Him. In fact, there is a Bible translation widely used among Catholics who translate ἀδελφοὶ as “cousins” in this passage (go figure). This interpretation would be consistent with a belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity.

As I stated, Catholics usually espouse interpretation (3). This would be totally consistent with belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity, but has the disadvantage of being a contrived device, bringing a forced harmonization between the Biblical text and church dogma. Were one not bound by any dogma, the best interpretation would of course be that of (1), and that is the interpretation usually espoused by Evangelical interpreters.

But “usual interpretation”, “best interpretation”, “most consistent interpretation” does not equal “mandatory interpretation” or imply that it should be an article of faith. One could espouse (2) or (3) and be a less than ideal interpreter, but the results do not affect any essential doctrine or dogma of the Evangelical faith. In fact, it should be possible to believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity and remain in full Evangelical orthodoxy and sound doctrine. In other words: the matter of Mary’s perpetual virginity is indifferent. We even have a term coined for these doctrines: adiaphora.

So, this is the situation: these good Evangelical Christians are attacking Catholics on something which is irrelevant to our faith and deeply sacred to theirs. Let me ask this: is this a good practice? No!

The Reformed, Evangelical, Christian faith has significant differences with Roman Catholicism. That’s why we had the Reformation, after all. Doctrines such as the use of images, veneration of Mary and the saints, purgatory, indulgences, transubstantiation, the Mass as a sacrifice, apostolic sucession and the place of the Pope, Mary’s immaculate conception, the Bible canon, the role of church tradition… are enough bones of contention. If you want to debate Catholics, these are plenty. You don’t need to pick another.

Picking this subject as a spear to charge against Catholics is useless. For many of them, stating that Mary had other children with Joseph is an insult to Mary’s purity and the only result we would achieve is to get Catholics offended and alienated. Do we want this?

Paul admonishes us: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18). Why should then be unnecessarily offensive? We will be offensive when preaching the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). This is a certainity and it is guaranteed. But our offensiveness should be limited to the gospel truth, not about quarreling whether Mary had sex with Joseph or not.

Therefore, my dear Evangelical zealous debater, do not waste your precious time and energy on something so useless as this. If you have to debate, at least try to pursue a worthier subject matter. That would be a better stewardship of your gifts and resources.

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2017

Manger scene in Paraguayan Style
Manger scene at my mother’s house for the 2016-2017 Christmas festivities, in traditional Paraguayan style.

I would like to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

I hope you all had a great time of festivities and a good time with your family and loved ones.

As you might know, in our country the tradition is in both festivities (Christmas and New Year) to await midnight in the midst of lavishly-served family dinners. We spent Christmas Eve with my mother-in-law and my wife’s family, while we spent New Year’s Eve with my mother. We had a great time, not very noisy, thank you, but full of joy and gratitude to the Lord.

The year that passed before us was a very difficult year. I had to face unwelcome changes and adapt to them. However, God was faithful as always, and His care and provision never faltered. Please pray for His continuing care for us throughout 2017.

This new year will be also a time of decisions, and that shall begin as soon as possible. I pray the Lord for guidance concerning these.

May the Lord bless you all, and give you a new year full of joy, comfort, and hope. Praise the LORD!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
    old men and children!

Let them praise the name of the LORD,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his saints,
    for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the LORD!

Psalms 148:11-14 ESV

Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween

Woman with a pumpkin

Note: This weekend many people will celebrate Halloween in many places. I deeply disagree with such celebration. Today I share some thoughts I wrote in Facebook back in 2013 and which I posted later on my Spanish site. I hope these words could be useful to you as you consider the meaning of this “celebration” (?).

I do not celebrate Halloween. I deeply dislike such celebration and even more, I regard its celebration as more harmful than beneficial.

I am a Christian. However, my rejection of Halloween is not due to its supposedly Satanic, or pagan character, or the like. I don’t mind and I am not concerned by any of that; my Christian faith tells me that Jesus Christ is King and there is no force that may stand up to Him, so that reason is rejected.

Neither I say that I do not celebrate Halloween because I prefer to celebrate Reformation Day (which is commemorated on the same day). I certainly commemorate and celebrate Reformation Day but my rejection of Halloween comes from a different reason.

My issue with Halloween is that it is a celebration of the ugly, the dead, the horrific. And that is a celebration that we don’t need.

In my country –and I’m pretty certain that this is not limited to Paraguay, where I am located– we live through horrors and fearful situations which cry to Heaven 365 days per year. We are forced to live and bear with so much ugliness of soul, with so many situations where death is exalted, that attempting a celebration of such things does not seem amusing to me in the least.

We don’t need to showcase what is horrible, what is ugly, what is fearsome. Instead, we need to show the good, the beautiful, the sublime (without, of course, falling into being elitist or exclusionist in the sense of fashionista beauty).

Looking through the history of the arts, and especially taking into account the art production of the Renaissance and the Baroque, one is amazed at the abysmal difference that was between what these works represented, on the one hand, and the harsh reality that everyone, rich or poor, had to live through. The fact is that the contemplation of the good, the beautiful and the sublime show us that we can and we should strive towards something better. Far from being an escapist anestethic to our harrowing reality, such contemplation encourages us not to resign ourselves to this situation and to fight seeking to bring to reality the ideal that a beautiful, fine art (in the classic sense of the word) presents to us.

The good part of all this is that even despite living among such a painful, harrowing reality, there is a lot of beauty among us, inspiring creators, and awaiting to be discovered and celebrated.

Finally, I would leave you this verse from the Holy Scriptures, which my former boss Rev. S. –a worthy pastor, full of honor before God– always quote. It is a good programmatic text to start any aesthetic reflection: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 ESV).

May God bless us all.



Review: Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History

Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History
Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History by Saul David
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is the definitive account of the incredible rescue operation that Israeli paratroopers did to release the Air France Flight 139 hostages held captive in Entebbe (Uganda) after the hijacking.

I read some other books previously on this raid and, while they were good reads, they were more like hagiography rather than serious history. (I’m thinking specifically of Operación Uganda, a Spanish-language book by Iona Kranz and others; I was unable to locate an English version). David’s account gives many important details, such as the true extent of negotiations with Kenyan officials, what happened to Dora Bloch, and the real happenings when paratroopers stormed the room where hostages were held.

In sum, the story reads like a thriller yarn but it’s solidly backed by historical evidence. I only wish all other history books were like this. I found it difficult to put down until I finished.

(This book review was posted directly from Goodreads.)Goodreads

Bye Bye N900

My trusty Nokia N900 finally gave up the ghost. Someone called early while I was still sleeping and the phone was being charged; I fumbled with the phone and for a moment the device hung from the USB port. I put the USB cable out of the port, took the call, and afterwards, when I tried put back the USB cable… the USB port simply came out of the phone. Thus, I am another victim of the infamous N900 Broken USB Port issue.

The phone served me well for several years. I may have the USB port soldered back, but meanwhile, it’s a loss. I’m using a (Nokia) feature phone now. 🙁

Windows 10 Anniversary Update: Kindle Issue Seemingly Fixed

After I installed Windows 10 Anniversary Update (see my report) I recommended holding the update until showstopping bugs could be fixed. I specifically noted a reproducible total system crash which happened after plugging Kindle e-readers via USB.

Well, these issues appear to be fixed now after two cumulative updates. The system appears to be more stable and therefore I am now confident enough to recommend current Windows 10 users to proceed with the update. So, go ahead and download!

Experimenting with the MATE desktop

Logo of the Mate Desktop Environment
Logo of the Mate Desktop Environment

Some bug bite me and, as a result, I did the unthinkable. 😉

In fact, you might know that I have been a GNU/Linux user since 2000 (fully migrated since 2002). Now, Linux is just a kernel, GNU is just a set of utilities, and usually the operating system leaves you at the text console. If you want anything graphical, you have a choice of graphical desktop environments which differ in their underlying development philosophies and choices and also in their degree of sophistication/customizability.

Well, for almost the same number of years that I was a GNU/Linux user I have been user of the graphical environment known as KDE (now Plasma). Hey, I even was an official KDE Spanish translator for 10 straight years! However, since Slackware also includes Xfce, it has been my second-choice desktop environment.

Now, if you are acquainted with a minimum of the history of Linux desktop environments, you might be aware of the fact that there was at a certain point a reaction against the KDE environment which gave rise to another desktop known as GNOME. It used to be a good desktop, but I deeply disagreed with most of its choices and the disagreement grew over time; so I’m not interested in using it. For many years there used to be a rivalry and even an all out flamewar among KDE and GNOME adherents (it’s all over now; everyone is OK with other people’s choices and to each its own).

Meanwhile, within the GNOME camp there was growing dissatisfaction with choices made by their developers. Thus, in 2011 some folks began a nice fork of the GNOME desktop, preserving what many users perceived as good parts of the desktop environment that were discarded in newer GNOME versions. This fork was called MATE Desktop in honor of the Paraguayan Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis), a Paraguayan plant which we consume in prodigious amounts as a refreshing beverage and also as a tea.

Thankfully, Slackware has available a great implementation of Mate thanks to Willy Sudiarto Raharjo and Chess Griffin. Due to their efforts, we have a nice set of packages in MATE SlackBuild.

Well, I got curious; even more, how could I pass an oportunity to try a desktop named after my beloved Yerba Mate? Therefore downloaded the Mate packages to give them a spin. I was offered a choice between the stable 1.14 version and the development 1.15 version. In turn, it was possible to choose 1.15 builds against the GTK+2 or GTK+3 libraries. Since GTK+3 seemed to be the way of the future, I chose that.

After some inquiries on whether Mate software and its dependencies would conflict with my Plasma setup, and being answered that it wouldn’t, I installed the desktop. Upon loading, I was pleasantly surprised.

So, here’s the unthinkable: a KDE/Plasma user for 10+ years installing and using a GNOME-derived desktop!

There are many good things to write about Mate, but there are also some shortcomings. I plan to write my impressions in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

Report: Windows 10 Anniversary Update

One of my boxes has Windows 10 installed in a drive where it coexists with Slackware 64-current, which is installed in a different partition.

Over the last weekend, I was able to update Windows 10 to the recent anniversary update. Despite some disturbing reports on the press, the update went smoothly and without incidents.

Here is a screenshot, which reveals some of the most important changes:

Screenshot of Windows 10 Anniversary Update
Screenshot of Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Note some significant improvements: the notification box moved at the far right of the panel, the Edge Web Browser, and, most notably, the Ubuntu instance running Bash.

There was some redesign going on, evidenced by the move of the notification ticker at the far right side of the panel (and if I am correct, it cannot be moved from it). But the most remarkable changes are:

  • The Edge browser got the ability to use extensions. Edge was a great browser, but the lack of anything even moderately resembling AdBlock Plus was a real showstopper to me. (Not that I am opposed to ads, but some sites are not only annoying, but downright abusive with their advertising.) After this update, Edge gained the ability to use extensions. Right now there are just a few, but the good thing is that AdBlock Plus is one of those precious few. Now, if only they could get something like Flashblock or Flashcontrol, I would be really happy; but AdBlock does indeed make a real difference. Using Edge is now bearable and I can begin to give it a spin. Even so, not all is great in Edge land; The browser feels reasonably fast and snappy most of the time, but it still chokes on some sites. Loading TweetDeck is possible, but it is excruciatingly slow. Typing a tweet in TweetDeck under Edge is a real test of one’s patience. Meanwhile, very heavy TweetDeck setups (with 20 or more columns) feel snappy and responsive on both Chrome and Firefox. Therefore, Edge is a nice browser but still has plenty of room for improvement.
  • Now it’s possible to have a real Ubuntu Linux instance on Windows, so you can run Bash and a lot of other Linux programs natively. If you are adventurous enough, you can even manage to run the Unity desktop on top of Windows 10, but it’s not a smooth ride at all. But you can run a lot of console-based applications and utilities and that is a godsend.

However, in addition to these new features and additions there are some problems. I will refer to two of them.

So, in conclusion: there are some definite improvements. Edge finally can be considered as a first call Web broswer, and the Ubuntu subsystem is a most welcome addition.

Take into account that my Windows setup resides on a partition in the same drive than Slackware and that there were some reports of Windows deleting Linux partitions. Despite the fact that I have my Windows coexisting with GNU/Linux on the same drive, I did not experience any of these problems and my Linux partitions were not touched. However, on the other hand, this update brought new levels of unstability that were unheard of in the previous Windows 10 version. In my particular case, as a Kindle user, the crashing was, and still is, extremely serious and unresolved by any update.

Therefore, my advice is to hold this update until the serious bugs are fixed. Meanwhile, try to stay with the previous Windows 10 version, which was much better in terms of stability. And, Redmond folks: please get your act together with the Kindle issue!

Update 06/09/2016: After two cumulative updates, it appears that the Kindle issue has been fixed. Overall, the system feels more stable so I can now recommend existing Windows 10 users to proceed with the upgrade.

Aquinas: The Duty of the Wise Person

While reading Aquinas’ Summa Against Gentiles, I found this little gem in the very beginning of the work:

Now, the end of each thing is that which is intended by its first author or mover. But the first author and mover of the universe is an intellect, as will be later shown. The ultimate end of the universe must, therefore, be the good of an intellect. This good is truth. Truth must consequently be the ultimate end of the whole universe, and the consideration of the wise man aims principally at truth. So it is that, according to His own statement, divine Wisdom testifies that He has assumed flesh and come into the world in order to make the truth known: “For this was I born, and for this came I into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth” (John 18:37). The Philosopher himself establishes that first philosophy is the science of truth, not of any truth, but of that truth which is the origin of all truth, namely, which belongs to the first principle whereby all things are. The truth belonging to such a principle is, clearly, the source of all truth; for things have the same disposition in truth as in being.

It belongs to one and the same science, however, both to pursue one of two contraries and to oppose the other. Medicine, for example, seeks to effect health and to eliminate illness. Hence, just as it belongs to the wise man to meditate especially on the truth belonging to the first principle and to teach it to others, so it belongs to him to refute the opposing falsehood.

Appropriately, therefore, is the twofold office of the wise man shown from the mouth of Wisdom in our opening words: to meditate and speak forth of the divine truth, which is truth in person (Wisdom touches on this in the words my mouth shall meditate truth), and to refute the opposing error (which Wisdom touches on in the words and my lips shall hate impiety) [*]. By impiety is here meant falsehood against the divine truth. This falsehood is contrary to religion, which is likewise named piety. Hence, the falsehood contrary to it is called impiety.

— Aquinas, Summa Against Gentiles, I:i (Book I, translated by Anton C. Pegis; source)

[*] Note: Words in boldface within the quoted text are from Proverbs 8:7.

Happy Birthday John Calvin!

portrait of John Calvin
John Calvin. Source: Hekman Library, Calvin Theological Seminary

Let this point therefore stand: that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit.

–John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion I:vii, 5 (Battles version)

Today is the 507th birthday of John Calvin. He left an indelible mark not only in theology, but in the whole configuration of Western republican and democratic ideas and the whole fabric of society. I thank God for the life of such a servant.

Article on Borges and the Protestant Bible (In Spanish)

image of Borges
Source: ABC Color

Today an article I wrote about the influence of the Protestant Bible on Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was published (in Spanish) at the Paraguayan newspaper ABC Color.

The thesis of the article is that Biblical influences on Borges came from a Protestant, not Catholic, environment; and in order to understand the Borgean canon, it is convenient to take into account the Protestant outlook on the Holy Scriptures.

You can read it here: Borges y la Biblia protestante.

If you read Spanish, I hope you enjoy it. Have a great Sunday (and if you live in the U.S., enjoy your barbecue and blow some firecrackers on my behalf!).

God’s Mercy Should Prompt Our Mercy

an old military cemetery
Were it not for God’s grace, this would be an adequate portrait of my spiritual condition.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.

— (Ephesians 2:1,4-5 ESV)

In conversation with a friend, this text came to my mind; and once again, it struck me with the depth of God’s work in our salvation through the gospel.

We were dead. I was spiritually dead, as dead as one could be. Look at the meaning of the word: total void of life; total absence of life. A dead body, a corpse, is absolutely unable of any movement, of any function of its own, save for the natural death processes which include decay and cell lisis. Trying to make a corpse do something is a fool’s errand.

The Word of God says precisely that. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were absolutely unable of anything, event the slightest action on our behalf. That’s how we were… but that’s not the whole story. When we were effectively dead in our trespasses and sins, God made us alive in Jesus Christ.

Just think of it. God gave life to the dead, out of His mercy and the great love with which He loved us. We attained eternal life not because of us, not because of our help or our disposition, but out of God’s sheer mercy and love, and despite ourselves.

We owe God eternal gratitude for His gift to us, and one way of showing this gratitude is to mirror His attitude. If God gave us life out of mercy and love. So, we should also show mercy and love to others in two respects.

First and foremost, we should ensure that everyone is exposed to the Gospel claims of God, so they could learn of this love and mercy, and act accordingly.

But it is also important to remember how we were in our past lives. Seeing how God pulled us from certain death and gave us hope should be sobering. And also, it should move us to display mercy and love to others. Knowing that God showed us mercy and love, should prompt us to be loving and compassionate when confronted with oter people’s miseries.

A False Dichotomy

image of a study bible
Intellectual faith is not exclusve of holiness and piety.

Today is Father’s Day so first things first: Happy Father’s Day! I hope you can spend this day with your loved ones and your family. So far, here in Asunción it has been a beautiful day, warm and sunny.

I would like to comment about an idea that’s been echoed over and over within my social networking circles of Paraguayan Reformed friends. The idea is something like this:”Your deep theological knowledge is nothing if you don’t have a holy life”; “It doesn’t matter how many Bible books you know by memory; it matters that you live them” and similar slogans and punchlines. In a nutshell: for the Christian faith, a deep knowledge means nothing unless you live a holy life.

That is a great sentiment, a lofty ideal… if you in fact have a deep knowledge, a solid theological learning, a mastery of the Bible, or some other manifestation of said deep Christian knowledge. But is this so?

I live in Paraguay. There, by the grace of God we are experiencing a Reformed, Calvinistic revival that moves me to give joyful thanks to the Lord for His work in this country, which was (and still is) a hotbed of the worst strands of Arminianism and Neopentecostalism when it comes to its evangelical church. As part of this revival, however, it is only understandable that some brothers and sisters in Christ display more zeal than truth in some of their statements; and the idea I quoted above is a good example of this.

Our Paraguayan culture is strongly against all things intellectual. Reading is usually considered something you only do when you are at school, a chore, a bore, and the sooner the better you’re done with it and move on. And this also shows in the church. Speaking of the Paraguayan evangelical church as a whole, the degree of Biblical and doctrinal ignorance is truly appalling, on both pew and pulpit. It is a matter of course that fresh new seminarians enter theological schools without doing the most basic task of all: having read all of their Bibles from cover to cover. And if those who are going to minister the flock don’t know their Bibles, how can we expect the people in the pews will fare?

And now we see memes with this idea within our circles. These memes would be appropriate in circles of intellectual Christians; people who may be at ease quoting Calvin, Aquinas, Berkhof, Frame, Pannenberg, or any of the Bible books with a good breadth of knowledge. But this is not the case of Paraguay. Here we need to encourage people to acquire more knowledge. We need more Christian thinkers. We need to raise a generation of intellectual Christians who are able to reflect on their faith with integrity, honesty and creativity. Telling them that they should de-emphasize their intellectual efforts is not only a false dichotomy; it’s counterproductive and wrong.

Let’s remember how the Lord Jesus summarized the first table of the Law:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

(Matthew 22:37 ESV; emphasis mine)

That’s right. We should love God with all of our hearts, but also with all of our minds. I could go on quoting a lot of other verses, but let’s just use Deuteronomy 29:29, which I consider a capital text for any Christian theology of revelation:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

There are some secret things; thing that we might never know. But there are other things that God chose to reveal to us. Learning about these things is not an option. They belong to us and to our children forever, in order to comply with the instruction (law, torah) that God gives us.

If we are to learn, if we are to live, if we are to obey; that is, if we are to be holy for God, we need to study and to know. Intellect and holiness do not exclude each other. On the contrary, true Christian piety requires both a discerning mind and a humble, willing heart.

Enough, then, with this false dichotomy. Instead, we should take heed of the principle stated by the Lord Jesus Christ when He spoke about tithing: “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Luke 11:42 ESV) We should aim for a holy life, without neglecting the life of the mind. Instead of discouraging the intellectual reflection on Christian faith, we ought to say instead: “It is great that you should strive to learn about God. Do it, by all means. And don’t forget to translate what you learn about Him into a holy life.” This is a message I would gladly subscribe.

30 Years Without Borges


The text on the image reads, in a strictly literal (and quick and dirty) translation:

Give me, Lord, courage and joy,
to climb today’s summit.

Those words are the last two verses from James Joyce, a sonnet published in 1968 by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Borges’ passing. But his legacy is enduring. I encourage you to read his works.

New Theme Version

For some time ago I’ve been using the gorgeous Graphy theme. Themegraphy, the theme creators, now released version 2.0, and therefore I upgraded.

If I can say something, it’s even more beautiful than the former version. Kudos to them and I hope you enjoy Themegraphy’s beautiful work in this blog.

Senseless Killing

Today, the news reported that this early morning there was the worst shooting in U.S. history. Really; the NPR coverage I linked is sobering. At least 50 people killed, and a similar number of wounded persons, inside of a night club.

It appears that this slaughter was motivated by hate. The perpetrator, a radical Muslim, targeted the club seemingly because it catered mainly to homosexual persons. This is a despicable and horrendous action, made against peaceful people who were harming no one.

We Christians have the duty to respect everyone, regardless of any condition: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17) The victims were bearers of God’s image and their lives were sacred and worthy of respect and protection. We cannot and will not accept the hateful mindset that led to this senseless killing. May God grant comfort and hope to the victim’s families and loved ones.

Now, there’s something to reflect on this. I saw from several sources, some close to my family, several calls to enforce tighter gun control procedures in order to avoid similar tragedies. To be honest, I entirely sympathize and I think there should be better gun control in the U.S.

But also it will be very difficult. Pro-gun persons in the U.S. look back to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. They have powerful lobbies, and it is only fair to say that gun usage by private persons in the U.S. appears to be grounded in the constitutional text and is part of the foundational groundwork of the American experiment.

But whatever the level of gun control the U.S. might enact or not, there’s an inescapable fact. Someone already said this, and I will just repeat it here: Guns don’t kill people. People do.

Guns, as well as knives, spears, ropes, nail, hammers, etc., are just tools. Someone needs to be there to pull a gun’s trigger. Timothy McVeigh did not use guns for his horrendous crime, but fertilizer. My point is: Guns are not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is the evil that lies in the human heart. Old Solomon said it well, thousands of years before the first gun was invented:

This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Ecclesiastes 9:3 ESV

Our hearts are full of evil, and we have no hope of overcoming that unless we submit to Jesus Christ and seek His redemption. Because no gun laws, no educational campaign, no change whatsoever, can give us hope but Him.

I pray for Orlando. I pray for the victim’s families. And I pray for redemption and hope in Jesus Christ.

O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Psalm 130:7-8

May the Lord bring that redemption to us.


My Only Comfort: The Modesty Debate

woman wearing hijab
Is this the only way how women should dress to be regarded as “holy” and “not a stumbling block for our brothers”? Yuck.

Sam Powell is pastor of First Reformed Church in Yuba City, CA, (USA), and the face behind the blog My Only Comfort. Browsing over Tim Challies‘ A la Carte series, I found that he linked to a great post written by Rev. Powell who really struck a chord with me. I think I am not the only one, since due to popular response Rev. Powell wrote not one, but two follow-up posts.

The overt theme of these posts is the debate on modesty and how this virtue is taught at church, especially to women. But the subtext is much larger. The issue is not only modesty; it is, as Rev. Powell rightly states, misguided views about sex, and a culture of misogyny and shifting blame to ladies for gentlemens’ sins.

But there is another subtext, that even Rev. Powell does not mention. And I think this is more serious: under “concern” for other people’s holiness, Christian are labeling beauty and a lot of other good things as sinful. And this is not only incorrect. It is sinful, even to the point of being blasphemous; because we are calling sinful something that is a reflection of God’s beauty (Acts 10:15 rings in my head).

So, let me share with you Rev. Powell’s three posts, which I fully endorse. This madness has to stop. Hope you like them.

1. The Modesty Debate

“Girls, listen up! These guys are your Christian brothers! When you dress immodestly, you are putting stumbling blocks in their way to purity! They are always tempted to lust, and you girls have to understand that, and dress accordingly.”

This sounds good on the surface, and many don’t give it a second thought. Except, of course, for the girls.

The problem with it is this. It’s degrading to women. It’s degrading to men. It’s degrading to Christ and his work. It’s thoroughly unbiblical, and therefore of no use whatsoever to salvation, purity or holiness.

The Modesty Debate


2. The Modesty Debate Follow-up

First, I never claimed that women should dress like harlots. In fact, I never commented on HOW women should dress at all (other than the statement “Dress like a daughter of the king.”) My ONLY point was that blaming the attire of a woman for the thoughts of men’s hearts is unbiblical, unhelpful and wrong. Perhaps I wasn’t clear.

It seems a bit strange that there were so many who took issue with that. Some said that since we still live in a fallen world, guidelines for dress are necessary, just like law in general. I find it interesting how little men understand their daughters and their wives. The assumption, again, is that if we men don’t lay down the law, our women will just rush right out to Backroom Boutique and buy stilettos and fishnets.

The Modesty Debate Follow-up


3. Modesty – yep, again!

Why do I get so worked up about the modesty debate? So much ugliness and misogyny!
It is one thing to say that we should teach our daughters to dress like daughters of the king, loved by Christ and honored. It is quite another to teach them that they are responsible for the lust of men’s hearts. One lifts up and encourages. The other leads to the date rape mentality.

If she is responsible – even a little – for my lust, why can’t I say that she is responsible when I attack her? Oh, that’s right. WE DO! God, though, is not mocked. You stand alone before His judgment throne. I would URGE you to quit griping about Jezebels in your midst and deal with your own ugly hearts!

I hate abuse. I hate blameshifting. I hate the despising and belittling of women and children. And I really, really, really hate the idea that women are responsible for the lustful hearts of men.

Modesty–yep, again!

There you have. Go there, read the posts, and think prayerfully about what your church is really teaching to their men and women.

(Photo credit: Woman in Desert near Sharm el Sheik, CC-BY-SA 2.0, by David Dennis/Flickr)

Young Single Christian Ladies: Christ is NOT Your Husband

holding hands

One of these days I was in conversation with a single young lady who was passionate in her zeal in following Christ. When the conversation turned on the subject of dating relationships she said something on these terms: “It’s really easy to forget about the dating scene when you do everything to please Christ and He is your highest priority.”

This sentiment was admirable of itself but something sounded fishy to me, so I inquired further:

“Wait; so, can you say that Christ something like your husband?”

“Yes”, she said. “We talked about it on the women’s meeting of our [Reformed] church.”

And then some bells rang in my head.

Christ as your husband. This is exactly what cloistered nuns are told to in order to handle their emotions and impulses and direct them towards Christ, or so they say. And it dawned on me: this is the meal our Reformed young ladies are feeding from. This lady of my acquaintance firmly believed this hogwash as if it were the utmost principle of sound doctrine and morals.

There you have it. Our young ladies, so full of zeal, hopes, and dreams, were conditioned as if they were nuns. What is going on in our churches that we have to resort to this thoroughly unbiblical baloney to get our young people to obey Christian morals? And then we wonder when our young people get married and have all sorts of issues in their intimacy. We can do better than that, certainly.

And I don’t have any quibble against monasticism or nuns. But it should be plain and evident that monasticism and lifelong celibacy are not for everyone, and the presuppositions of monasticism should not be taught as a good universal rule for Christians.

Young single ladies who love Christ, keep this in your mind: Christ is not your husband. Christ is your Lord. You don’t owe Him marital love. You owe Christ obedience, worship and service. In any case, Christ is our Brother (Hebrews 2:11-18). But most definitely not your husband. Christ is the husband, but of the Church (Ephesians 5:25, among others).

No wonder there are countless worship songs that sound too much like erotic love songs. No wonder why so many males find church services repellent (not that we should begin to cater to their tastes, but you get my drift).

We really need to change our ways. Or, we are going to raise a mixed generation: half prudes, half hypocrytes. May the Lord deliver us from this awful future.