All posts by Nick Norelli

Lenten War

I think it’s a fair assessment to say that many Christians play defense when it comes to their spiritual life. They wait for problems to arise and then pray or fast in order to combat them. I believe that Lent is a season that puts us on offense. The spiritual disciplines practiced during this season enable us to wage war on the enemy, namely Satan, but also our own flesh.

In one of his sermons on Lent, Leo the Great said, “For what is more accepted than this time, what more suitable to salvation than these days, in which war is proclaimed against vices and progress is made in all virtues?”  (Sermon 40.2). Leo continued in this sermon to say that fasting is not enough. To that we add works of piety. He’s talking about going on offense.

If we were to stick with the three basic disciplines, fasting, giving, and prayer then we’d have all that we need to combat “all that is in the world” (1 John 2:16). Jesus succeeded where Adam and Israel failed. Through the power of his resurrection we have the ability to succeed in these areas as well.

 Adam (Loss)Israel (Loss)Jesus (Win)
Lust of the FleshGen 3:6Num 11:1–9, 31–35Matt 4:2–4
Lust of the EyeGen 3:6Deut 6:13–15; 1 Cor 10:7–8Matt 4:8–10
Pride of LifeGen 3:6Deut 6:16; 1 Cor 10:9–10Matt 4:5–7

Fasting combats the lust of the flesh. The lust of the flesh is our baser desires. It’s what drives us to do the things that feel good even when they’re not pleasing to God. When we fast, we deny our physical desires to keep our appetites under control. We control our desires rather than allowing our desires to control us.

Giving combats the lust of the eye. The lust of the eye is at the root of jealousy, envy, and covetousness. It’s inherently selfish. Giving, with the right heart, is selfless. It focuses our attention on helping those in need rather than on fulfilling our wants.

Prayer combats the pride of life. The pride of life is thinking more of ourselves than we ought to. It’s exalting ourselves above God and pretending that we are in control. Prayer is a recognition that we aren’t in control. It’s turning to the one who stands above us and can make a real difference in our lives and the lives of others.

These three basic disciplines are all that we need to emerge victorious in the spiritual war against our enemy, but we can add many other works of piety into the mix. Leo speaks of clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and showing our humaneness to the sick, exiled, and orphaned.

Whatever disciplines we choose to practice during the Lenten season, let us practice them with an eye on the victory of Christ in his resurrection. It is in the resurrection that he defeated the final enemy, death itself!

B”H

The Bible in a Year (Redivivus): 1 Samuel 11:1–14:52

1 Samuel 11:6–7 – Fear can sometimes be a great motivator.

1 Samuel 11:8 – It’s always interesting to see Israel and Judah distinguished before the kingdoms split (11:8). The note in the The New Oxford Annotated Bible says, “The distinction between Israel and Judah either is an anachronism or reflects a differentiation that was always felt if not institutionalized until after Solomon’s reign.” I’ve never spent any real time in looking into the dating of the books of the Hebrew Bible. If Samuel was written after the kingdoms split then I can see anachronism as a viable option, but if it was written before then I’d ask why a differentiation of that sort was felt.

There’s a textual variant here concerning the numbers gathered. Interestingly, the NET Bible notes the discrepancy between the MT’s 300,000 vs. the LXX and two Old Latin MSS’s 600,000 for Israel’s number but that’s it. The NRSV has 70,000 for Judah’s number while the ESV and NET have 30,000. The NRSV notes the variant here between the MT and a Qumran MSS and has obviously opted for the latter. I find it interesting that the NET hasn’t noted this variant alongside the other one, but also that the NRSV found this as the more likely reading.

1 Samuel 11:14–15 – The NOAB makes a big deal about renewing Saul’s kingship here. They take the story to be an editorial addition that hearkens back to 1 Samuel 10 and paints Saul in a positive light. The original story, according to the annotator, is that here Saul is made king for the first time. The NJPS translates חדש as “inaugurate” rather than “renew” as the JPS and most other translations render it. I can’t really see the need for this to be an editorial addition. Bruce Waltke suggests that the text wants to “reaffirm the kingship,” which he understands to mean “restore and repair that which already exists between I AM and Israel and to adjust it to monarchy” (An Old Testament Theology, 636).

1 Samuel 12:12–15 – This passage leads me to believe that Waltke’s interpretation of above-mentioned passage is correct. Israel wanted a king even though God was their king. But even when God sets a king over them he says, “If you will fear the Lord and serve him and heed his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well; but if you will not heed the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.” The king is an extension of God, but has to obey the LORD just like Israel does.

B”H

Lenten Discipline

The Christian life is about discipline. Not only, but largely. I’ve often heard it said that a disciple is a disciplined one. Lent is a season of increased discipline in anticipation of celebrating the event that made our discipline possible in the first place, namely the resurrection.

Apart from the resurrection of the Lord Jesus we’d be without salvation. Jesus saves us from our sin and for God’s glory, conforming us into his image by the power of the Holy Spirit, the very power we need to live disciplined lives!

One might argue that discipline is possible apart from the resurrection. There are pious people of every faith who live disciplined lives, even those faiths that reject the resurrection. That’s true enough. But discipline for the sake of discipline isn’t what we’re after, is it?

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes for honoring God with their lips while their hearts were far from him. King David cried out to God and said that if burnt offerings alone would please God then he would offer them. The LORD speaking through Isaiah told a wicked Judah that their various disciplines (offering sacrifice, observing new moons, and keeping the Sabbath) were abominable.

What’s the common denominator? The posture of the heart. The Pharisees traditions in and of themselves weren’t the issue. Their traditions trumping true devotion to God was. Their hearts were far from him. David acknowledged that God wants sacrifice, but he wants it being offered from those with broken spirits, broken and contrite hearts. Judah’s practices were abominable because they were tainted with the filth of oppression and injustice.

The kind of disciplined lives that Jesus made possible through his resurrection is the kind of life that can only be lived with a new heart. With a heart oriented toward loving God and loving others. Lent is the season in which we ramp up the disciplines that strengthen our love for God and neighbor.

The Sermon on the Mount gives us the keys to success. In Matthew 6:1–18 Jesus instructs his disciples on the types of disciplines that he expects and the heart posture from which he expects them. “When you give to the needy… and when you pray… and when you fast…” All of these disciplines are a given, but Jesus wants them to be done differently than the hypocrites do them. He wants them to be done in secret so that the Father can reward. It’s not the action in and of itself. The hypocrites do the same things. It’s the heart behind the action.

So let us be disciplined in this season to a greater degree. Let us thank God for new hearts and serve him and others through our giving, prayers, and fasting. And let’s do it with an eye on the Paschal feast, where we celebrate our Lord and the event that made it all possible!

B”H

Lenten Devotions

10 years ago I attempted to blog my way through the entire Bible in a year. I made it to right before Easter. I’d like to resurrect those devotions and pick up where I left off. Since I’ll be starting before Easter, which is later in the month this year, there will be some overlap. It’ll be interesting to compare my insights from a decade ago as compared to today. I’m looking forward to it.

B”H

Stoking the Fire

It really bothers me how certain people are trying to promote the racial divide in this country. It seems like everything is racialized and never for the better. When George Floyd was killed the world was sure that it was racially motivated. Officer Derek Chauvin was instantly branded a racist cop who was part of a larger system of white supremacy. Now everyone is in agreement that Floyd’s death was tragic and that Chauvin was in the wrong for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes. But nothing in the original 8 minute clip that circulated over social media showed racism. People simply saw a black man die at the hand of a white police officer and they automatically supplied the motive.

After the full body cam footage was released we now know that there was no racial component to Floyd’s needless death. The officers involved were fairly cordial to Floyd throughout the ordeal. Floyd was clearly under the influence of something and he resisted arrest for a prolonged period of time. Chauvin restrained him in a way that would make him compliant. I personally believe that Chauvin stayed in that position for so long out of frustration. I believe he was absolutely wrong to do so. But I don’t believe for a second that it had anything at all to do with George Floyd being black.

Fast forward to the recent shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. The CNN headline reads “Wisconsin police shoot a Black man as his children watch from a vehicle, attorney says.” CBS News has “Police in Wisconsin shoot Black man in back multiple times, sparking protests” I’m shocked that it doesn’t say “White Wisconsin police shoot a Black man…” The first line of the CBS story is “A Black man was hospitalized in serious condition after police shot him several times in the back as he opened the door of a parked vehicle in Kenosha, Wisconsin.” The CNN article’s first sentence is, “Two Wisconsin police officers were on leave Monday as state authorities investigate why a Black man was shot multiple times in the back as he entered the driver’s side door of an SUV, officials said.”

What does Blake’s color have to do with his being shot? The truncated video of the incident doesn’t seem to show Blake being shot for being black; it appears that he was shot for reaching into his car when officers had guns drawn on him. They don’t know what he’s reaching for.

And yet we have people like Governor Phil Murphy (undoubtedly the worst NJ governor of my lifetime) stoking the fire by saying the following on Twitter:

Last night, in Wisconsin, we witnessed another shooting of a black man by a law enforcement officer. It is reported that Jacob Blake – who was shot in the back seven times in front of his fiance and children – was unarmed.

How many times does this nation have to endure this?

We pray for Jacob Blake’s recovery from his wounds.

We pray for his family, who themselves are also victims of a shocking and traumatic event.

We pray for a full reckoning of the systemic and inherent racism of our society, and for its elimination.

We pray for justice.

Why begin by noting Blake’s color? Why default to “systemic and inherent racism” with regard to this incident? Where does that even begin to come into play? And Murphy isn’t consistent in this regard. This past Friday (Aug 21, 2020) a young woman named Vernetta McCray was shot to death in front of her home in Trenton, NJ. Ms. McCray was a state employee who was doing some work on her front porch when she was hit by what appears to be a stray bullet after more than 20 shots were fired nearby. I have not heard that the shooter(s) were arrested but when somebody gets shot in Trenton it’s almost always by a black man. And what did Governor Murphy say in response to this shooting?

This tragedy is yet another reminder of the toll that senseless gun violence takes on our communities. Our prayers are with Vernetta, her family, and her loved ones at this difficult time.

How come Murphy didn’t note that Ms. McCray was black? Why no prayers for the end of “systemic and inherent racism?” How come Murphy doesn’t ask how many times the nation has to endure these senseless acts of gun violence? Why doesn’t he specify that senseless gun violence is taking a toll on our black communities? Why is the senseless death of a law abiding, upstanding citizen like Ms. McCray not elevated to the same heights as the death of someone like Jacob Blake who actively resisted arrest (so far as we can see from the footage circulating) and reached into his vehicle when officers had their guns trained on him? Also, in the short story on Ms. McCray I failed to read anything in the headline or body of the story about her being black. I wonder why her race didn’t matter to the reporter.

It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t fit the narrative. It doesn’t encourage the racial divide in this nation. It doesn’t incite riots. Black people killing other black people doesn’t “matter” to the Black Lives Matter crowd. Black lives only matter when they’re taken by white police officers apparently. Don Lemon told Terry Crews as much when he (Crews) dared to broach the topic during an interview in early July. Lemon told Crews to go start his own “All Black Lives Matter” movement if he’s concerned with the violence in black communities. These politicians and media personalities should be ashamed of themselves for how they push this narrative, a false narrative I’d add.

The narrative is that white cops are roaming about like roaring lions looking for black lives to devour. The reality is that they’re not. More white lives are taken by police officers every year than black lives (see the Washington Post police shootings database for exact numbers) but that doesn’t fit the narrative. It doesn’t receive media attention. The facts don’t support the narrative so the facts are never reported. Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer, Jr.’s 2017 study “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force” shows that “on the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we are unable to detect any racial differences in either the raw data or when accounting for controls” (39).

So again I say shame on the media and the politicians for stoking this fire of racial division. It doesn’t help and it’s simply not true.

B”H

On Biden’s VP Pick

I don’t think Biden’s VP pick is going to have the desired effect. Kamala Harris is intelligent, accomplished, and capable, I’m sure, but she’s relatively inexperienced in this sector of the political arena and some of her policies have not been received with enthusiasm by the base of voters that Biden was hoping to reach, namely black voters, female voters, and progressive voters.

I was at work when we received the news of Biden’s pick. At the time there were 3 black men in the barbershop (2 barbers and 1 client) and 2 non-blacks. The client (a lawyer who lives in Washington, D.C. but comes in for cuts when he’s home visiting family) said he felt insulted. My coworkers agreed. The sentiment was that Biden expects black people to vote for him because he’s standing next to someone that looks like them. It’s as if they’re not supposed to be concerned about things like, I don’t know, policy. It all feels quite forced and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

I’d imagine that many women feel similarly. Like they’re expected to cast their ballot for Biden because he’s got a strong woman at his side. How soon we have forgotten that a few women accused Biden of inappropriate sexual behavior (and Harris said she believed them). The liberal or progressive voters are really the ones who I have seen criticize her the most strongly because her track record is quite a bit more conservative than they’d like.

And the internet is ablaze with democratic primary debate in which Harris criticized Biden for supporting segregation back in the day. She didn’t limit that criticism to the debate, by the way, she continued it on talkshows after the fact (The Breakfast Club and The View). But the point is that even though Harris said she didn’t believe that Biden was a racist (and I’m inclined to agree), she didn’t give the impression that she really believed he was for blacks either.

So what’s changed from then to now? I’d submit nothing. And I’d submit that voters are going to be more concerned with policy and real world stuff than identity politics this go around. At least I’d hope they would be. Time will tell but I said that Trump was a two term president back in 2016. I still think that’s the case and I think Biden’s VP pick is going to actually aid in that task.

B”H

On Reducing the Size of my Physical Library

I’m a book guy. I love books. But my love for books combined with an addictive personality have caused me to run out of room to shelf my books many times over the years. I always find a way to make room and get more books but I’m at the point where I just don’t want to anymore.

There’s a reason for this. The reason is that I got an 12.9″ iPad Pro and reading on it isn’t a chore. Not only is it not a chore, it’s a pleasure. Taking notes on the iPad pro is also amazing. Whether I’m using GoodNotes 5 or PDF Expert, I love the freedom to annotate the text and the various options I have in annotating.

So I’ve been making a conscious effort not to purchase a ton more physical books over the past few months. I’ve also seriously considered getting rid of all the hardcopies that I also have digital copies of. I don’t know if I’d sell them or give them away but I find myself grabbing the iPad before I grab the physical copy.

And I’d also note that I have my entire digital library in my iCloud drive, on a thumb drive, and another couple of external hard drives. The point is that I can carry it with me everywhere that I go. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d feel this way but the day has come.

A couple of months back I went on a Kindle Book binge. They’re fine, and so are the books I have in my Books app. I also like the ebooks on ScribD. But my preference is PDFs for the better annotation and proper pagination. I don’t mind other formats if I’m just looking to consume content but if I ever want to cite anything for any reason then referring to a Kindle location just wont cut it since I know everyone doesn’t have my settings saved on their reading devices.

In any event, while my library continues to grow, I think it’ll grow in a different way. And I’ll be sure to let those who still read this blog know if/when I sell any books. I already have plans on parting with most of my Greek lexicons (BDAG, Louw & Nida, Thayer). We’ll have to see what else can go.

B”H

Equal Weights & Measures

I suspect that another statewide shutdown in NJ is imminent. Our governor, Phil Murphy, has issued several warnings over the last few weeks to state residents in the the wake of COVID-19 cases rising, which he attributes to the proliferation of parties that people (mainly kids) are having. He said, “Everyone who walks around refusing to wear a mask, or who hosts an indoor house party, or who overstuffs a boat is directly contributing to these increases.”

Murphy’s gonna do what he’s gonna do but he’s going to be inconsistent in doing it. Back in June, when the protests over George Floyd’s death, systemic racism, police brutality, and the like began, Murphy said, “I can’t imagine what it would look like if we said to people, ‘Actually, you have to stay in. You have to ignore systemic racism — I’m sorry, just ignore it. Stay in.’” He encouraged large gatherings as long as they were gathering to protest. He even attended some himself. Apparently public health and safety isn’t important when it’s a cause that he believes in.

But when kids get together for BBQs and graduation parties then it’s a crisis and the warnings start to fly. He’s using the rise in positive COVID-19 cases as the ground for these warnings but this rise in numbers doesn’t tell the full story. First, there’s more testing now so we’d expect numbers to rise. Second, every positive result isn’t an indication that those people are actually sick; many are asymptomatic. Third, the testing is severely flawed and there have been countless false-positives. Fourth, he can no longer go about with the mantra that we need to protect the most vulnerable among us since COVID-19 ravaged nursing homes and longterm care facilities statewide (accounting for 40% of the deaths back in May).

My point is simply this: Governor Murphy isn’t using equal weights and measures and he hasn’t been since the beginning. Shut us down again or don’t. Whatever may come our Governor is a hypocrite.

On Dr. Stella Immanuel

So I’ve seen the video circulating from a press conference given by a group of physicians in Texas headed by Dr. Stella Immanuel. We’ve all seen it by now. In it she passionately claims that there is a cure for COVID-19 and that is a combination of hydroxychloriquine, zinc, and z-packs. She was immediately ridiculed and dismissed, but on what basis? Here are the major arguments I’ve heard:

  • She’s a charismatic minister
  • She believes that certain medical conditions are caused by demons
  • She believes in alien DNA
  • She’s a conspiracy theorist
  • She has only anecdotal evidence
  • The treatment she recommends is not FDA approved

Much of this is ad hominem. Rather than attacking her claims people have been attacking her character. So what if she’s a charismatic minister? Does that inhibit her ability to practice medicine?

So what if she believes that certain physical conditions have spiritual causes? That’s actually a biblical concept, but even if she’s wrong about that it doesn’t necessitate that she’s wrong about this.

So what if she buys into conspiracy theories? To start, every alleged conspiracy theory isn’t so farfetched as some would have us believe. Second, even if every last one of them was, just because she’s wrong about these conspiracies doesn’t mean she’s wrong about this.

The claim to anecdotal evidence is probably the strongest of the group, but we can’t dismiss anecdotal evidence wholesale. She’s not the only physician who has claimed to have had success with hydroxychloriquine. And our culture is apt to accept anecdotal evidence when it fits a narrative we deem worthy.

And finally, the treatment is not FDA approved. Well, we wouldn’t expect it to be yet, would we? COVID-19 hasn’t been around for that long and from what I’ve read there haven’t been many randomized trials testing HDQ’s efficacy. The one I read about this morning was a bit janky in nature as they recruited participants through social media, mailed them the drugs/placebos, and depended on the candidates to report the results.

Update: At the time of writing this post I was unaware that the FDA has issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) based on early evidence that HDQ worked . https://www.fda.gov/media/136784/download They have since revoked the authorization, saying that the potential cardiac risks outweigh the potential benefits of the drug in COVID-19 patients according to clinical trials. I plan to research these trials but my basic point still stands with regard to the ad hominem rejection of Dr. Immanuel’s claims. There’s a reason that the FDA objection is last on my list. It’s the one I’ve seen the least when it seems to me that this would be the one that people would want to cite the most if the science is in their favor.

So while those who are dismissing Dr. Immanuel wholesale are going about smugly congratulating themselves for landing on the side of sanity, ask yourself this: why are you really so quick to dismiss Dr. Immanuel? Is it because she holds some beliefs that you personally find incredible or ridiculous? If so then do you recognize that’s fallacious?

If there haven’t been enough randomized trials then any claim to the ineffectiveness of the treatment is just as anecdotal as claims to its effectiveness. Why do you side with those who claim to have not had success rather than with those who claim to have had some? And not for nothing, if chloriquine worked in inhibiting SARS then is it really crazy to think that hydroxychloriquine could possibly have some effectiveness in treating SARS-COV-2?

Also, if you contracted COVID-19 and developed serious symptoms, wouldn’t you want to try anything possible to combat it? I know I would.

I suspect that the majority of people railing against Dr. Immanuel and her claims to success wouldn’t be quite so skeptical and dismissive had President Trump not mentioned the drug a couple of months ago.

In the end I pray that Dr. Immanuel is correct and that this is an effective treatment. I also recognize that she likely over-spoke in claiming this a definitive cure. Even proven treatments for certain ailments aren’t always effective in everyone. But if we want to dismiss her claims we need to come up with better reasons than she believes in alien sperm and deep state conspiracies.

B”H

On ScribD

I’ve had a ScribD account for years. Over the years I’ve used the service to download PDF files of books and articles and it was a pretty even exchange where I would have to upload a document in order to download a document. But then they started to get greedy and I’d have to upload multiple documents to download a single document. That’s when I decided on taking advantage of the free trial.

So I signed up for 30 days and that gave me unlimited downloads without me having to upload anything. It was pretty good. I downloaded dozens of books and articles but time eventually got away from me and I exceeded the 30 day trial. Once I was charged I considered cancelling immediately but then I figured I might as well ride the month out and cancel at the end of it.

In the process of the next 30 days I began to realize what a great service that ScribD actually provides. Aside from thousands of PDFs for download they also offer ebooks of new releases in pretty much every category you can think of. I’ve always been a hardcopy guy but since acquiring an iPad Pro I’ve been doing a lot more with digital books. I love having the PDFs because they’re properly paginated and I can mark them up but it’s nice to be able to consult newer ebooks if I’m really just interested in the content and don’t need to accurately cite something.

In addition to that they offer audiobooks as well as lectures and podcasts. And when I say lectures, I mean good lectures, like Gordon Fee on 1 Corinthians! But the audiobooks are super convenient for when I’m driving or when I want to listen to something while I’m working. I don’t listen to a ton of music these days so having a seemingly limitless supply of material to learn from is fantastic.

In all, after two months of paying for ScribD, I’m fully satisfied that it’s worth every bit of the $9.99 per month and more! I’ve been recommending it to family and friends without the slightest inhibition and those who have taken advantage haven’t regretted it a bit. So subscribe today if you haven’t already. You’ll thank me for it, I promise.

B”H