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Saturday, January 20, 2018

News Weakly - 1/20/2018

Tasty Feet
Trump put his foot in his mouth (again) by insulting all people from Haiti and Africa and applauding Norwegians, looking a lot like a racist and bigot. No news there, except for the additional evidence the event offers to the fact, but what was interesting to me was the story that "conservative Christians remain as polarized as ever over his leadership." The story quotes multiple black conservative Christian leaders but complains about "the white evangelical vote." I have never understood the distinction of race and religion, especially in terms of "Evangelicals", since nothing in the definition of evangelicalism includes the race of the person who holds to it. Seems to me that these kinds of stories are, themselves, race-baiting -- aimed at pitting races against each other and, in this case, especially Christians.

Trump denies he said it. Other voices affirm he did. Whatever. It was not right for a president or for someone who calls himself a Christian.

Heartbreak of Illegal Immigration
For 30 years Jorge Garcia lived illegally in Michigan until he was arrested and deported this week. "An undocumented family member brought Jorge Garcia to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. Today he has a wife and two children, all of whom are U.S. citizens." His supporters are saying it's "another example of immigrants being unfairly targeted under the Trump administration."

Stories like this are heartbreaking. He has a wife who is an America citizen. He has been in this country for 30 years. He had every opportunity to do what was required to become a legal resident. Why didn't he? From all indications Jorge was a good man. No criminal record, pays taxes, good family man, hard worker ... all that good stuff. It's sad that he has to leave -- that his wife and children will be without a father, at least for awhile. Is it sad that the law caught up with him? I have to wonder why he didn't do what was necessary to prevent that from happening.

Color Me Surprised
Well, isn't that amazing? A major portion of California is hoping to declare independence ... from California. No, they don't want out of the country; they want out of the state. I get it; I really do.

Under-Represented
The story said, "Ava DuVernay was named entertainer of the year at an NAACP Image Awards ceremony." No one seemed to notice that white people were sorely under-represented. (That's a joke.)

Regulating Friendship
This is beyond my comprehension. Apparently there is a move in Europe and now in American schools to ... get this ... ban friendships in school. Now, why would anyone think this was a good idea? "Well," they tell us, "we're encouraging inclusion rather than friendships." The notion that everyone feels excluded at some point in life and now is the time to teach the little tykes how to deal with it is wrong, wrong, wrong.

See? Risk averse.

The notion that we can legislate inclusion by banning friendships is simply ludicrous, a complete absence of any idea of how the human being operates. You don't combat loneliness by legislating associations.

Sanity Check
Apparently Brad Manning (aka Chelsea Manning) has filed to run for U.S. Senate in Maryland. You remember this guy. Convicted of leaking secret documents to Wikileaks, his sex change was paid for by you and me while in prison and President Obama commuted his 35-year sentence in 2017.

This will be an excellent sanity check ... for voters. If this guy who cannot figure out that girls are girls and guys are guys and "f--k police" is not an appropriate message to broadcast on Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, if this convicted felon can get voted into office, then we can be pretty sure that "office" is a relatively useless component of the U.S. government, requiring neither moral virtue nor rational thinking of its members.

Government Shutdown
As of the writing of this entry, the government shutdown is still pending. The outcome is unknown. I particularly appreciated, then, the headline from the Babylon Bee: "Sense Of Relief Washes Over Nation As Government Shutdown Grows Increasingly Likely"

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

Bill has a drinking problem. I mean a real one. Greg is his friend and suggests Bill should do something about it. Bill agrees and sets out to stop drinking. What does Bill need in order to solve this problem? Simple. Self-control. So he's working the problem and doing well. One day Greg invites him over to a party. "Come on, Bill," Greg says, "one beer can't hurt." So Bill gives in ... and has to start all over. Who is to blame here? If you're thinking it's Greg, think again. Remember, what Bill needed to solve this problem was self-control, not "Greg"-control. Greg didn't help, but Bill bears his own blame.

Betty and Terri are great friends. Betty loves to bake -- cookies, cakes, pies, all sorts of sweets -- and Terri loves to eat them. So Terri decides she is desperately in need of weight loss. Betty is proud of her and Terri sets out to lose a few pounds. At some point, Terri drops by to visit her friend. As they chat, Terri is looking at those fresh-baked cinnamon rolls that just came out of the oven. She can smell the cinnamon. She can see the icing. She can imagine the goodness. "Oh, sure, just one," she tells her friend. Becky gives her one, two, three and Terri is back at the beginning of her diet. Whose fault is that? Not Betty. What Terri needed was self-control, not "Betty"-control. Betty didn't help, but Terri bears her own blame.

As is clearly evident in today's climate, guys suffer from multiple forces that push them to say and do things they shouldn't. No doubt. Just look at all those sexual harassment charges out there. So our fictional "Ted" decides he's not going to fall prey to this. Sure, there are hormones and peer pressure and culture and all, but he's not going to do it. He's not. He's not. It's all about self-control. But when Jan shows up in that low-cut blouse and short skirt, he just can't help making that remark that gets him fired and sued. Whose fault is that? It is not Jan's fault. The issue is self-control, and Ted failed to exercise it.

Two observations, then. First, I've already claimed that the people with the problem are the problem and not their associates. Still, what about those "helpers"? We can't blame them, but we can note that they were not helpful. And why were they not helpful? Because their only concern was "me". Greg was enjoying his beer, Betty her baking, and Jan her fashion. Our constant claim is "I can do what I want." That's fine, but you realize, I hope, that far too often "what I want" is pure, unadulterated self-centeredness. And that is your fault, not theirs1.

Second, what is needed so very often for the problem folk (which, by the way, includes all of us) is self-control. What is lacking in the vast majority of us is ... you guessed it ... self-control. So isn't it grand that one fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control (Gal 5:22-23)? Isn't it nice that God has provided the answer to our problem and all we have to do is accept it? Well, accept it repeatedly, sure, but ...
________
1Paul speaks in multiple places about "freedom in Christ", in which we are free in regards to those things which God has not mentioned. However, instead of a focus on our freedom, Paul focuses on the other guy. "Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer," he writes, "but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." (Rom 14:13) "Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do," he says about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Then, "But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." (1 Cor 8:8-9) "Am I not free?" (1 Cor 9:1) he asks and then says, "Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them." (1 Cor 9:19) Are you free to do what you please? Paul argues that believers should surrender their freedom in order to serve others.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What has changed?

What are the modern assaults on the concept of marriage? Well, in the latter half of the 20th century there was a concerted effort to strip "procreation" from "marriage" with the careful insertion of contraception as a norm. The Sexual Revolution came right on its heals urging "Make love, not war" and calling for "free love". Powered even further today by the ubiquity of porn and the mistaken idea that sex is recreational and "for my pleasure", the obvious result was to strip sexual morality from its moorings in marriage and leave that to your choice. Sex is no longer a union and marriage is no longer linked to procreation, and an unprecedented number of children are the products of unmarried mothers these days.

Soon after the embrace of contraception, it became unwise to make marriage permanent. We call it "no-fault divorce," and the purpose was to make available the easy termination of what was intended to be a lifelong relationship. The result of that was higher divorce rates. In the early 20th century, divorce rates in America were down in the teens -- 8 to 16%. There was a peak at the end of World War II up around 43%, but that dropped off again to something in the twenties. In 1950 it was 26% and in 1967 it was 26%. But as the divorce laws changed, it went to 33% in 1970, 48% in 1975, and up to 52% in 1980. Beyond that, in 1980 the ratio of men divorcing their wives to wives divorcing their husbands was about 600 to 1; for every 1 woman who sought divorce from her husband, 600 men divorced their wives. In 1990, that ratio was 12:1 ... in reverse. For every 1 man who divorced his wife, 12 women divorced their husbands -- in a decade. It remains the same today; women initiate divorce more often than men. Today, divorce has moved from "disaster" to "celebration".

The current "go to" position is to be expected from these first two factors; overall less marriage and more fornication. (They call it "cohabitation.") "Two become one"? No, not really.

In the 21st century the hits keep coming. First, was the conscious redefinition of marriage as "a man and a woman" to any gender. You know it as "same-sex marriage". I call it "same-sex mirage" simply because there is no definition in that redefinition. "Man and woman" (Eph 5:31)? No, not really. And to further convolute this we have the whole "gender dysphoria" issue where "man and woman" lose all definition all on their own. Where God clearly discriminates against "same-sex marriage" (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4-6), our society has tossed out His ideas in favor of their irrational versions.

So what? I mean, we have sin going on everywhere, don't we? Why is this particularly significant?

Consider. The fundamental basis of our relationship with God is "in Christ." We are told that our hope is predicated on "Christ in you" (Col 1:27). "If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness." (Rom 8:10) We are secure from God's wrath when we are clothed in righteousness (Isa 61:10), and that righteousness is His (2 Cor 5:21). It is this vast, mysterious union of Christ and His people that is illustrated by God in marriage (Eph 5:31-32).

Then consider communication. How does that work? Well, you take something -- a word, a phrase, a picture, a symbol, a concept -- that is common to two people and you use that something to connect those two people. That's how communication works. I use terms or concepts you understand and you grasp what I'm trying to communicate by that common understanding.

Now, if you wanted to undermine God, to undercut His relationship with us and God's salvation for us, where exactly would you make the first cut? Well, it seems me you'd remove the possibility of communication. Oh, wait, isn't that what Scripture says? "If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Cor 4:3-4) Yes, that. Then, cut loose the moorings of the Gospel -- in Christ -- by cutting loose marriage as a symbol of that Gospel. Now "The Gospel is like a marriage" has no real meaning.

You and I are no longer free to maintain our convictions regarding God, His Word, or His definition of marriage. Ask the Christian shop owners who tried to do so. It is no longer an issue of religious freedom. It is no longer tolerated. It is called "hate" and will cost you. But I urge you, believers, if you are concerned at all about the Gospel, don't give it up. The cost of redefining marriage is too high. It is the very Gospel -- your very salvation -- that is at stake. Communicate as God has about marriage as the union of a man and a woman as an understandable illustration of the mystery of Christ's union with His own that is the hinge pin of our salvation, and you'll be speaking nonsense to a world that has rejected that version of marriage. It is not trivial.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Problem of the Will

We've examined the concept of "free will" before, not always with agreement, but I'd like to discuss the problem of the will. You see, if a will is to be considered free, it goes without saying that it must be allowed to choose what it wants. Sounds silly, perhaps, but surely we can all agree that a will that chooses what it does not want is the actual opposite of a "free will."

And this is where we run into the problem of "free will". You see, we think that humans have "free will" by which we mean to convey that humans are able to choose anything at all. Now, of course, this is manifestly false. I mean, you can't simply choose to sprout wings by your own will and fly. So we can't actually choose anything at all. Besides, if it is to be "free will," it must be that which we want to choose. If you're choosing that which you don't want to choose, that can't be considered free will. And therein lies our basic limitation. The primary block to a free will that chooses "anything at all" is the limitation of our own desires.

What does Scripture say about humans and their desires? We know "the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked" (Jer 17:9), so we know from the outset that our desires are skewed at best. We know that "the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God" (Rom 8:7), so we know that whatever we desire it isn't God and His ways. We know that without God we are slaves to sin (Rom 6:6, 17, 20) and that "the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21), so our desires, by virtue of our natures, are not virtuous. This is what Paul suggests when he says, "'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.'" (Rom 3:10-12).

Do you see the problem, now, with our free will? It is free -- we can choose what we want -- but our "want to" is broken and what we want is not good. As a result, our free will cannot choose what is good because that would be the opposite of what we want.

This is why there is more than a "self-help program" required. More than a reform school training program. Our problem isn't a lack of discipline; it's a lack of "want to". God calls us to obey, and we don't want to, so we cannot. This is why what we need is a new birth, what we need is a new heart, what we need is an entire transformation.

Fortunately, that's exactly what God has in mind for us.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

When Worlds Collide

Back in the 1940's America went to war. Not just any war -- a world war. We sent armament and supplies and men to two fronts. There was rationing and volunteering and an entire sense of pulling together for the common good. Fast forward just two decades and America was spitting on troops coming home from an "unpopular war". Something changed. Something shifted. In a very short time America went from a focus on family over self and community over family and society over community to self as the primary focus.

Today we are faced with what the general public refers to the "Me" generation, a generation focused almost entirely on self. But this isn't about America. As it turns out, Christians in America are in almost exactly the same place. We shop for a church for what we can get out of it. We go to church not to minister, but to be ministered to. America's primary focus is the individual, and Christians are, for the large part, going right along with it. "As it should be," most would say.

Square that with Scripture. Do a rundown on the loads of "one anothers" in the Bible. How does "What do I get out of it?" line up with all the "one another" commands? Look at Paul's command, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (Phil 2:3-4) Think about the collision of "A good church is one that feeds me well" with "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Cor 12:7)

We Christians have largely accepted the American worldview that it's all about the individual. It hasn't always been this way. German sociologist Max Weber wrote a book in 1905 that argued that the success of American Capitalism was due largely to Calvinism. Apparently it's true. How? Well, the Reformers believed in a notion called a "vocation", not in the Catholic sense or even in today's sense. They believed that we are called by God ("vocation" literally means "calling") to do the work of Christ in this world by working. Our work is Christ's work. The shoemaker and the CEO and the trash collector are all doing God's work when they serve others in the jobs that they do. To these guys, work was considered "good" and "rewarding" insofar as it was good and rewarding for those whom it was done. You see? Not "What benefits me most?" Instead, "What is best for them?" It's called the "Protestant work ethic". And it stems not from a "What's in it for me?" perspective, but a "What can I do for you today?" point of view.

Now, you have to admit, this is not a common perspective in our modern world. And I think, if you're honest, it's not particularly common even among Christians. I think, however, that it's clearly a biblical perspective. So what about you? Is it possible that you are more caught up in the current idol of self than in the biblical model of worshiping God by sacrificing self (Rom 12:1)? Is it possible that you, like me, might have some changes to make here in your thinking? Perhaps?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Assurance?

One of the disagreements between the Protestants and the Catholics was the issue of assurance. The Reformers believed that God cannot lose any of His own, that He sustains them all to the end. The Catholics were appalled. In the Council of Trent they said, "If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end, unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema." (The Council of Trent, Session 6, CANON XVI) Do you believe that it is possible to know that you have eternal life? They consider that worthy of damnation.

Now, on one hand, as it turns out, the Roman Catholic Church has officially, with this statement from the Council of Trent, managed to anathematize Saint John. It was he who wrote, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13) You have to admit it takes real courage for a Church Council to damn one of their own official saints, let alone one of Christ's prime Apostles. Or, maybe it's not courage at all ...

But what strikes me is the problem of the basis of the concern. Why did they respond with such angst over the concept of the assurance of salvation? It's a concern shared by most who oppose the idea. Basically, it's this. "If you say that you can know that you have salvation, then you give license to people who will receive that assurance and then go and sin to their heart's content." They warn (even rightly) about false assurance, but their primary concern is that the certainty that you're saved gives you the freedom to sin.

So what is at the root of this line of thinking? It seems to me that it's premised on the notion that good works are self-propelled. We know that we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works." (Eph 2:10) We know we are called to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil 2:12) If anybody tells you that we're not expected to do good works, point them to James. "Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." (James 2:17) "So," they think (I suspect without thinking), "we're expected to do good works and if you have this 'assurance', it will short-circuit you from doing good works." I'd guess that this is a fairly common line of thinking, actually, even among those who believe in the believer's eternal security. Works are something we do, something we generate, something we ... well ... work. But this misses entirely the concept of salvation.

When we are saved, we aren't "helped out" by God. We aren't "encouraged to do good." We are in Christ. We have God "who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) Those good works for which we are designed and created for are "His workmanship" (Eph 2:10). We are "predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29) with the certainty that "these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Rom 8:30) Yes, we have work to do, but it isn't powered or predicated on ourselves. It is all of God. "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9)

Lots of people see the confidence that Christ will not lose one of those God has given Him (John 6:39) as a recipe for disaster. It's a license to sin. I suppose they'd be right if not sinning was within our realm of possibility. It isn't. We are baptized into Christ's death (Rom 6:3) in order to be freed from sin (Rom 6:6-7). We are God's workmanship under God's influence powered by God. I guess I just think that there is much more power there than in the human propensity for good works.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hearing God's Voice

So, I'm walking through the Christian bookstore and I run across the "trending" section. And what's "trending"? Well, the section is full of stuff by Priscilla Shirer. Now, if you ever saw the movie, War Room, you've seen Priscilla Shirer. She was the younger (not the older) black lady who was seeking to repair her family and get in touch with God, so to speak. And she's a popular writer now. One of the big ones from her is this book entitled, Discerning the Voice of God. It's a book to tell you "How to Recognize When God is Speaking." And it's so big that, even though it was written a decade ago, she has released a revised and expanded edition. Because we all want to hear the voice of God, don't we?

Allow me to offer some helpful advice on this, because I do agree that we should be seeking to hear the voice of God and we do need to be able to discern when it's Him and not someone else. Very important.

So, first, may I suggest that you begin and end with His Word. Now, perhaps, since we've referred to the Bible as "God's Word" for so long, especially with that "Word" with a capital "W", we've lost sight of what we're saying. What we're saying is that the Bible is the very word of God. The Bible is God speaking. Sometimes it is Him literally speaking -- direct quotes from God. But even when it's not direct quotes, it is still God speaking through those He has chosen to use to speak (2 Peter 1:20-21). And while the words used are those of the human writer, the message in its entirety is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17). Do you want to hear God speak? Read your Bible. Read it all the way through. Read it cover to cover. Examine it closely. Listen to it. You're hearing the voice of God.

"But how can I know if I'm actually hearing the voice of God or my own?" Examine it more closely. Compare it with itself. Think about it, pray about it, pay attention to it. What does the Bible say about itself? What is the explicit? What type of text is it? Historical narrative? Poetry? Wisdom? What? Read it for that. How does it line up with the rest? And is there consensus over church history that agrees on it? There should be if Jesus's promise that the Holy Spirit would lead His own into the truth is actually true. If this is consistent, you're hearing the voice of God.

"But I'm not, really, am I? I mean, I'm not hearing God's voice." Of course, it would be easy to say, "Well, read aloud!", but I'll offer another possibility. Insofar as the Word is preached, the preacher is speaking the words of God. As long as the pastor or teacher is accurately expressing Scripture, he or she is actually speaking the words of God. Go to church. When you hear them preached, you're hearing the voice of God.

"You don't seem to understand. I want to hear God's voice about my everyday things." Yes, I understand. We want to know who to marry, where to work, should I do this or that? The truth is if we have a firm grasp on God's Word, most of those questions go away. The truth is that most of our demands to "hear God's voice" are because we're not willing to do the work ... to hear His voice in His Word.

Not good enough? Beyond this I would advise extreme caution. The popular idea today is that "God can talk directly to me," that we can get special revelation from God Himself. I'll give you a hint. When "God speaks directly to me" in a way that directly contradicts His Word, you can be quite certain it is not God's voice you're hearing. But, then, you'll need to know His Word to know that, won't you? So we're right back in the same place again. We have God's Word. Listen to it.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

News Weakly - 1/13/2018

No Win
So, as the Golden Globe Awards became a political arena to address racism and sexism and female empowerment instead of, say, excellence in film and television (you know, like the Golden Globe Awards were intended to be), Oprah Winfrey did a speech about female empowerment and sexual harassment. Hailed as inspirational by many, Ivanka Trump weighed in on Twitter. "Just saw @Oprah's empowering & inspiring speech at last night's #GoldenGlobes. Let's all come together, women & men, & say #TIMESUP!" Oh, that was a mistake. Bashed by the likes of Alyssa Milano and Chrissy Teigen, it is clearly a mistake for a Trump to say anything, in agreement or in opposition. (You know that's how it works. Hey, Ivanka's the one that got in trouble for wearing her own line of clothing.)

Speaking of "No-Win"
Drexel University's George Ciccariello-Maher has resigned from his position as a professor there. He says his personal situation there is "unsustainable." You may not remember him; he's the one that tweeted in 2016 "All I want for Christmas is white genocide." Said the white guy in Florida. Go figure. He's been harassed and smeared and can't take it anymore. That a university would retain a professor advocating the murder of himself and hiss white students is a bit surprising to me, but, hey, who knows these days what universities will and will not do?

How Should This Go?
The pastor of a Memphis megachurch has admitted to a sexual assault on a 17-year-old girl 20 years ago. The pastors over him apparently knew about it and "dealt with it", but she doesn't think so. He asked for forgiveness (but apparently will not receive it). It was 20 years ago and no further allegations.

It is what we would refer to as "unforgivable", except in the context of Christianity it isn't. Or is it? Is a pastor who commits an act like this permanently out of office? Is it good and right for God to forgive but we do not? I ask because I don't know.

Misplaced Affections
This is what happens when we forget Who's in charge. I will just copy the first sentence from this amazing story. "The Swiss government has ordered an end to the common culinary practice of throwing lobsters into boiling water while they are still alive, ruling that they must be knocked out before they are killed." That's right. It is inhumane to throw it in hot water; if you're going to kill it, do it nicely.

"Oh, Stan, you're just being silly." Am I? They banned those devices that teach dogs not to bark. They required that lobsters being transported live to be eaten must "always be held in their natural environment", no ice or cold water. Seriously. You can't make this stuff up. If you're going to boil a lobster alive, you must first stun it so it doesn't feel it. It is against the law to boil a conscious lobster. Because, as we all know, lobsters are people, too.


I'm sorry. Yes, there is more news of the week, but that lobster thing just got me. When we live in a world that demands that we keep it legal to murder babies but cries for the pain of a lobster, there's just so little sanity left that ... well, this will do for this week's entry.

Friday, January 12, 2018

In Christ

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21)
Picture the sequence. Two people meet ... maybe at a cafe or in an alley or wherever. One says, "Did you bring the stuff?" The other nods. "Did you?" Yes. So they hand each other the bag or the attache or whatever they're carrying. Each takes a look at the new one they acquired. "Yep, it's all there." So one walks away with Christ's righteousness having successfully exchanged it for his sin. Silly? Sure. But I think sometimes that's how we unconsciously see this little exchange. Our sin is "something" and Christ's righteousness is "something" and we've made the exchange.

That, of course, makes no sense. So how does it work?

In Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus he describes something that Paul says is a great mystery.
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is great, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32)
We're familiar with the concept, right? "The two shall become one flesh." It has been this way from the beginning (Gen 2:24). Even when it is illicit sex, there is a unifying (1 Cor 6:15-16). This is mysterious and powerful.

So, what happens when two people marry? This is an exchange, but not. It is a mutual sharing. You've heard of "mail-order brides" from other countries that seek American husbands primarily in order to become American citizens. That is, if she marries an American, she becomes an American. Or consider Diana Spencer. "Who?" Oh, you know her as Diana, Princess of Wales. She was born a commoner, but when she married Charles, Prince of Wales, she became a princess, through no merit or effort of her own. She exchanged her common classification for a royal one on the basis of the husband she married. We get that, don't we? A rich person marries a poor, and the poor is no longer poor. Marriage merges people. And Paul says that's a picture of "Christ and the church."

How is it that we became the righteousness of God? We did it by being "in Him" -- in Christ. It wasn't some exchange of stuff. It was a union. It isn't "outside" -- it's inside, the "marriage" with Christ. Just look at the many things that Scripture says about being "in Christ".
[We] are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Rom 3:23-24)

The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1)

The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Rom 8:2)

[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:39)

We, who are many, are one body in Christ. (Rom 12:5)

By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. (1 Cor 1:30)
And that's just a smattering. "In Christ" is not a location; it's an existence. It is a union, a mysterious union. It is the source of our salvation, the reason we are seen by God as righteous (Phil 3:8-9). "In Christ", in fact, is the definition of our salvation. We don't have some external righteousness handed to us. We "become the righteousness of God in Him." In Christ we are free from condemnation. In Christ all the promises are sure (2 Cor 1:20).

If you think salvation is something handed to you, you're not seeing the scope of it. We become united with Christ. The whole purpose is "to become conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:28-29). Marriage is important, but this union of Christ and His Bride is vital for every aspect of your spiritual life.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Saved by Grace through Faith

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
Those two verses are phenomenal. They provide the clearest and sharpest difference between Christianity and every other religion on the planet. All other religions are works-based; Christianity alone is "not as a result of works." Every other religion must earn heaven; Christianity is the only one that gets salvation as "the gift of God." Christianity alone offers salvation by grace through faith.

Have you ever taken the time to notice the prepositions in that phrase? They're important. The phrase has three pieces: 1) saved, 2) grace, and 3) faith. What is their relationship? How do we get that first piece -- "saved"? Follow the prepositional logic.

Paul says we are saved "by grace." Paul does not say we are saved "by faith". We often do, but he doesn't say that here. He says we are saved by grace. So what does he say about faith? He says we are saved "through faith." No, that's not even accurate. He says we are saved by grace that comes through faith. So what's my point?'

Let's try a few human illustrations. Consider the importance of water to human life. We live on water. We cannot survive without water. We can live longer without food than we can live without water. We need it. So, there is a reservoir near me with life-giving water, but, you know what? I don't drink at that reservoir. The water comes to my house. It comes through a canal to a water purification plant and then through pipes to my house. In other words, I live by life-giving water which comes to me through pipes. I do not live on pipes; I live on water. Or consider food. There is the hand that feeds, and there is the food that the hand feeds. Do you live on the hand, or do you live on the food? You live on the food which comes through the hand that feeds.

What we have here is a salvation system. Faith does not save. Grace saves. It is all of grace. Going back to those illustrations, faith without grace doesn't provide salvation any more than those pipes without water or a hand without food sustain life. Grace -- God free, unmerited favor -- alone saves. Faith is necessary, however. It is the conduit, the connection, the link to that grace. Like that reservoir near me, God could have vast reserves of grace available, but it is faith that provides the pathway, the access, the spigot, so to speak.

Now, since the two are irreducibly connected, it's easy to see how "saved by grace" and "saved by faith" have become irreducibly connected. You don't get grace without faith and faith does you no good without God's grace. It is true, then, in a general sense that we are saved by faith; since both are required, it can be thought of as both being that which produces salvation. So don't hurt yourself too much over this. Just keep in mind that your salvation is a gift. It is a gift predicated on the grace of God ... which is a gift. That grace comes via the conduit of faith -- your faith -- which is a gift (Eph 2:8; John 6:65; Rom 12:3; Phil 1:29). You exercise it, providing the pathway for God's grace, resulting in salvation. And do you want to know why?
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph 2:10)
So ... works are not out of the picture, eh?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What did Simon Believe?

In Acts 8 we are introduced to a character named Simon. He is a magician (however that is meant) (Acts 8:9). Up until Philip arrived preaching the gospel, Simon was regarded as "the Great Power of God" (Acts 8:10), but when Philip showed up it says, "Even Simon himself believed" and was baptized (Acts 8:13). Well, now, this is good stuff. An evil "magician" repents and comes to Christ, baptism and all. So it's a bit strange how the story plays out.

Some time later Peter and John arrived and started praying over new converts. They laid hands on them and they received the Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). Simon thought this was great! He offered the Apostles money: "Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:18-19) Peter's response was amazing.
"May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity." (Act 8:20-23)
Hey, Pete, back off, man! Haven't you heard? "Once saved, always saved!" Well, of course he was aware of the eternal security of the believer, so what was going on here? It says Simon believed. It also says that he was "in the bondage of iniquity." How do we put these two together?

The Greek doesn't give us any help. The text says Simon πιστεύω -- pisteuō -- the same basic word found in Ephesians 2:8-9. "For by grace you have been saved through faith." So that's not helping. So what else does the text tell us?

We know he believed the "signs and great miracles" (Acts 8:13). Clearly Simon the "magician" had met his better. His were tricks; these were real miracles. We know that he heard about "the kingdom of God" and "the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12), so that's likely something he "believed". So what are we missing? Isn't that "saving faith"? Given Peter's response -- "You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God." -- we would have to assume that it wasn't. So what went wrong? Where was the disconnect?

This isn't the first time believers didn't believe. In the 6th chapter of John we encounter disciples who didn't believe. Jesus had said that to have eternal life you had to eat His flesh (John 6:53-58). Some of His own were not impressed. And Jesus, knowing who did not believe (John 6:64), said, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." (John 6:65)

So there is something else beyond "believe", apparently. What is that? I think we can see it in Simon quite clearly. To "believe" requires, first, to know something. You can't believe what you don't know. On the other hand, knowing something doesn't mean you agree. I know what a unicorn is, but I don't believe in them. So there is that second component -- belief. Mental acquiescence. "I agree." That's about as far as Simon got. It qualified him to be a demon (James 2:19). There is one more component; that is what I will refer to as "trust". It is placing your confidence in Christ. It produces change. Belief without resulting change is dead faith (James 2:17, 26), and Simon demonstrated dead faith. He figured Christ wasn't entirely sufficient and he could buy what he needed. He believed, but only as far as mental agreement. His confidence was elsewhere.

We all face this question. What do you believe? Do you simply know about Christ? That isn't "believe". Do you agree that Christ is who He says He is? That's "believe", but it's not saving faith. There must be one more component; trust ... a reliance on Christ that produces a changed life. Without it, all you have is dead faith, as demonstrated by Simon the magician. If that's you, that's not where you need to be. "Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you."

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Misconception

I have made it clear that I believe in the Bible. I believe it is, for the most part, clear and understandable. I believe that it should be read and understood as written. I believe it is God's Word, breathed out by God, authoritative, and sufficient to equip believers for every good work. Of course, I believe this in direct conflict with the vast majority of the world and even of those who call themselves Christians.

The problem with all that is that no one seems to understand why. They think I'm arrogant, that I'm over-confident, that I'm overbearing. The problem, you see, is a misconception on their part.

I believe in the reliability of Scripture because I believe in God. I trust Him for His Word, for His promises, for His truth claims. I trust Christ who promised that He would send the Holy Spirit to lead His own into the truth. I trust the Holy Spirit to have accomplished this through the millennia. I don't believe in the Bible because I trust my advanced training or superior reasoning skills or my special insights (I have none of those things.). I don't believe the Bible is God's Word because I think I'm such a wise fellow. I believe it because I trust God.

Trusting God means that He did breathe out His Word, superintending it and protecting it, getting it right. Trusting God means that His Son was and is perfect -- no mistakes, no sin, no errors. When He promises, He delivers. He promised the Spirit; He delivered. Trusting God means trusting the Holy Spirit. Christ promised the Spirit would lead us into the truth; the Spirit delivered. Trusting God, then, would mean that God's Word is reliable and Christ is reliable and the Spirit is reliable. Trusting God would mean that the Spirit has always led His own in the truth.

Now, I know there are a lot of self-identified Christians that claim to trust God as well, but do not have that kind of confidence in His Word. They believe it's hard to understand. They believe there are errors and mistakes, myths and legends. They believe that it's all a matter of opinion. To me, that is not trusting God. But, hey, if you can have confidence in God without trusting His Word, His Son's promise, or His Spirit's work, I suppose they have a different understanding of the word, "trust".

I believe all that, but it is a misconception to think I believe it because of something in me. It's not me. I know me better than that. On the other hand, I think God has well-earned my confidence in Him, so any suggestion that I just chalk this stuff up to "opinion" is just plain foolish to me. "God is trustworthy; I just don't trust Him to that extent" is far more arrogant than what I believe.

Monday, January 08, 2018

But ... Why?

We are, by nature, anthropocentric. (Sorry. I like the word. Rolls off the tongue. Okay, maybe not.) It means "centered on Man". We are, by virtue of the Fall, centered on us rather than on God. We are so ensconced in this way of thinking that we -- even believers -- often don't notice. So we will take things we see and view them from a "me as the center" perspective. We ask, "Why would God allow evil?" without regard to why God might want evil to exist because "It doesn't do us any good." We wonder, "Why would God allow bad things to happen to me?" without considering His perspective on it. And we are certain -- quite certain -- that God saves us because He loves us. We are that special, you see?

Did you know that God disagrees? No, not with the fact that He loves us (John 3:16). He loves us, but that's not why He saves us. God didn't save us for us. He tells us why.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. (2 Tim 1:8-11)
Now, I don't know if you were paying attention, but Paul, in this (way too long) sentence to Timothy, tells us exactly why God saved us -- "not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace." Imagine that!

In his epistle to Rome, Paul wrote about God's calling to salvation -- the "elect". He says that God chose Jacob over Esau "so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls." (Rom 9:11) There it is again. God's purpose.

We are delighted that God has saved us and we understand that it's not according to our works, but we are, at our core, anthropocentric. He didn't save us because of our works, but surely because He loves us. He does love us, but according to Paul that's not why He saved us. According to Paul He saved us for His purpose. He saved us for His glory (Eph 1:3-12). Let's not be confused on that. It is to our benefit that He loves us and that He saves us, but He did it for Himself. Let's keep that in mind.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

All of Grace

I've recently finished Spurgeon's book, All of Grace. Good book. I commend it to you all. But I'm not going to talk about it. I just want to consider the idea suggested by the title.

We know our salvation is "all of grace" (Eph 2:8). Clear enough. And magnificent, too. But if that's all you think of when you think of God's grace, you're missing a lot.

We know that God is complete in Himself. He has no lack, no need, no shortcoming. Thus, when we read, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1), we understand that He did so out of His grace -- His unmerited kindness. He didn't have to create us; we exist because He is gracious.

In the 19th century it was common to hear people referring to "Providence". It was a general reference to God, of course, but it highlighted His providing. The point was that all our needs are provided for by God. He gives us air to breathe, food to eat, a roof over our heads, friends and family -- all we need. He doesn't do it out of compulsion; He does it out of grace.

We know that we are saved by grace through faith, but did you know that faith is something God gives? The faith you needed to come to Christ was granted to you (Phil 1:29). Thus, in that phrase, "saved", "grace", and "faith", all are gifts -- God's grace. In fact, Paul says that the other aspect we need to bring -- repentance -- is also granted to us by God (2 Tim 2:25). In other words, all that you need to be saved is a product of God's grace.

Once we are saved, there is a need to persevere, to endure (2 Tim 2:12). As it turns out, God also provides that. You must "work out your salvation", even with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), but, lest you think that's all on your shoulders, it turns out that it's just not true. Your very perseverance is a product of God "who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) Your assurance of salvation is by the grace of God.

Well, the truth is, Spurgeon was right. It is all of grace. Existence, life, movement, breath, faith, repentance, salvation, assurance, endurance, eternity ... all of grace. He owed us nothing. He needs nothing. He lacked nothing. It is all of grace, favor given without merit. Paul said that it is God in whom "we live and move and exist" (Acts 17:28) "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things." (Rom 11:36) "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (Col 1:17) All that is is of His grace, from your salvation by grace through faith to your perseverance to the end to your every breath and every bite of food to the simple fact that you and I exist at all. That, dear reader, is a lot of grace.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

News Weakly - 1/6/2018

A Law for Breaking the Law
On January 1st California officially became a "sanctuary state." This new law prevents law enforcement from detaining illegal immigrants except for other crimes and from honoring hold requests from ICE. It creates "safe zones" where schools, libraries, courthouses, and such are not allowed to enforce immigration law. State and local law enforcement can work alongside federal immigration officers "as long as their main purpose is not immigration enforcement." (Question: What do federal immigration officers do besides immigration enforcement?) Federal immigration officials will not be notified when an illegal immigrant felon with a violent or serious conviction is released. California has essentially declared, "We do not care what your immigration laws are; we will not honor them. Oh, of course, we will require the federal government to support us in every way we deem necessary; just don't expect us to reciprocate."

Why? It "strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear everyday." That is, there are 2.3 million illegal immigrants in California that are afraid they'll get caught. I feel their pain, but what about all the other illegals who are afraid they'll get caught? What about the speeders, the single mom of three who just hasn't had time in the last 6 months to renew her auto registration, or that poor college student with 47 unpaid parking tickets, who are all afraid they'll get caught? Shouldn't California provide "a measure of comfort" to them, too?

I suppose this "sanctuary state" thing is a good thing, since California also just became the largest state to legalize (against federal law) recreational marijuana. I mean, if you're going to open up that kind of a market, it's probably a good idea to protect those who come into their state illegally to deliver the product, right?

Actors or Actresses?
Just wondering. Why is it that when females in the acting profession are fighting for "equality", they demand that they be called "actors", not "actresses", but when they're fighting against sexual harassment it is "300 actresses, female agents, writers, directors, and more women in Hollywood banding together"? Mind you, I'm in favor of opposing sexual harassment (although I no longer know the definition or the direction that will take) (I mean, is "He didn't like my idea" "sexual harassment"?); I'm just wondering about the duplicity of "In this case we're just people, but in that case we're women."

Too Much Work?
Oregon changed its the law, leaving New Jersey as the last state. What law? The law that prevents Oregonians from pumping their own gas. Horror of horrors! Some people may now be pumping their own gas in Oregon? Will the state survive? One 62-year-old native Oregonian said she didn't even know how to pump gas. Another woman worried about getting out of the car and pumping her own gas "with transients around and not feeling safe." Others were concerned about pumping gas in the cold. Perhaps Oregon isn't as liberal as we thought. At least California was concerned about people who break the law not feeling safe; apparently Oregon has no similar concern for drivers who have to ... as crazy as this sounds ... have to pump their own gas.

Global Warming
Have you heard that Al Gore canceled a speech he was supposed to give in Indianapolis, citing cold weather? Seriously, snow in Florida? I tell you what; if this global warming keeps up, we're all going to freeze to death.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, January 05, 2018

The Marriage Bed

Now, this is interesting.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (Heb 13:4)
So? Oh, of course, you may not have noticed. It's an interesting thought process. Look, we all get "Let marriage be held in honor" and we all get "let the marriage be be undefiled." Clear enough. No adultery. Spouses ... be faithful. Those outside, don't insinuate yourself into the marriage bed of anyone else. That's all clear ... but it isn't quite what was written.

In Scripture, there is the general "sexual immorality" and there is the specific "adultery". Adultery falls in the category of sexual immorality, but is a specific aspect. It refers to illicit sexual relations within marriage. A married man who has sexual relations with someone not his wife is an adulterer. An unmarried man who has sexual relations with someone else's spouse is an adulterer. The defining component of adultery is that one of the parties involved is married. So we clearly understand that to "let the marriage bed be undefiled", adultery would be right out. Then ... why did the author include the general "sexual immorality"?

I think it's clear. God wanted to warn against defiling the marriage bed during (adultery) and before (sexual immorality) marriage. Sexual immorality that is not adultery would be sex outside of marriage. But sex outside of marriage will eventually defile a marriage bed ... a future marriage bed.

God thinks sex is pretty important. It's for procreation (requiring marriage). It's for mutual satisfaction of married couples (requiring marriage). It is a graphic illustration of the union of Christ and Church (requiring marriage). So any time those who are married violate that structure, it is serious to God. And any time those who are not married violate that structure, it is serious to God. Is it as serious to you? If you are a Christian, it should be.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Risk Averse

The term "the Lost Generation" used to refer to the generation that came of age after World War 1 or, perhaps, those who died in World War 1. A new meaning has been suggested. Today it might refer to Gen Y, the latest generation. Why? Because their prospects look so dim.

Why is that? Well, aspects include a "very inflated sense of self", "unrealistic expectation", increased cynicism, a dislike for hard work, decreased empathy, and fragile egos. They are described as "a pampered and nurtured generation ... with a very high sense of self-worth." Statistics include the fact that 34% of 25 to 29-year-olds have moved back home with Mom and Dad and the fact that only 12% of 18 to 34-year-olds think that owning a home is one of the most important things in life. Statistically this generation is putting off adulthood until much, much later.

Assuming all this is true, what, do they say, is the cause? Well, there is the whole "Generation Me" sense given to them. There is the "self-esteem" emphasis in which they've lived. Everyone knows that this generation is coming out of college loaded with debt but without a lot of employment opportunities. There is the rift that technology has offered between individuals and actual, personal interaction and the damage that technology has wrought by separating them from basic learning like math and spelling by doing it for them.

One of the main factors, they say, is the "risk-averse" concept they've grown up with. They've been protected from imagined kidnappers that may or may not have been there, defended from "harsh treatment from teachers" that might include things like discipline or "too much homework" ... that sort of thing. They've been the wards of "helicopter parents." They're 3rd and 4th generation "I want my kids to have a better life" folk who have been given much without being required to do much. "Risk averse."

Let's face it. We all tend to be risk-averse. "Burn me once; shame on you. Burn me twice; shame on me." And we've been burned. So we try to avoid it and that's somewhat rational. The error occurs when we think it is mandatory, compulsory, always "the best". Today's kids shouldn't only be protected from physical harm; they should also be protected from "bad feelings." It is becoming the right of every individual (at least, every individual that is approved for this right) to not have their feelings hurt or threatened. The notion that they might need to toughen up is horrendous. In the realm of physical fitness we grasp the idea of "no pain, no gain", but can't seem to carry it over to other areas of life. And it's not helping our kids.

We have some optional approaches here. We could take a hands-off approach and hope they don't crash and burn. We could take a hands-on approach and hope against hope that, having never actually stood on their own two feet before, they actually will in a reasonable amount of time. Two extremes that would appear, at least to me, to be bad choices. Common, perhaps, but bad. Or we could take the biblical route where we train our kids, with Scripture and loving, godly discipline with a variety of methods, and trust, in the end, to a Sovereign God to actually do what's best for our kids. But I suppose a prerequisite for that option would require ... you know ... an actually Sovereign God.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

No, not the song from the '70's. What is "respect"? Today it means "admiration". Fine. It may even mean "deep admiration." Okay. But is that always the concept? Maybe not.

In Ephesians wives are told, "Let the wife see that she respects her husband." (Eph 5:31) "Okay," we think, "that means that she should have a great admiration for her husband." And, of course, at that juncture we run into a problem. You know the problem. Say it with me. "Respect is not given, it is earned." What do we mean by that? Well, you can't require someone to admire another; they have to be ... well ... admirable. And, yet, here we have God commanding women to respect their husbands. What's with that? In Peter's first epistle he tells us we should "in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15) There's that word again. We're supposed to make a defense with gentleness and admiration? How does that make sense? One might begin to think that the Bible keeps using that word, but not in the way that we do.

It turns out that in both of the instances I quoted above, the word used is not some sense of "respect" as in "admiration", but the Greek word, φόβος -- phobos. Ring any bells? Yeah, that's not "admiration"; that's "fear". Thayer's dictionary says, "fear, dread, terror." Strong's includes "exceedingly fearful". Nope, not "great admiration". It's in those two above and in 1 Peter 2:18 as to how a servant should view his master as well as Romans 13:7 as to how we should treat those in government. Translated "respect" in modern versions, the term is less "great admiration" and more "fear." It is, in fact, a term often applied to how we're supposed to view God. The very same term. Most modern translations translate those instances as "reverential awe", which works as long as you realize that "awe" includes a sense of dread. Biblically, then, we're supposed to "fear" God in the sense of reverence and awe touched with a sense of fear and we're supposed to have the same view of others. Wives are commanded to have this view of their husbands. We're supposed to have this view of those to whom we're defending the Gospel. Servants should see their masters this way, and citizens should have this sense toward those in government.

Assuming that the word translated "respect" in those cases actually meant that some sense of "fear" was supposed to be included rather than mere "admiration," you might begin to see how the command to "respect" people in these cases makes sense. We need to recognize that there are those in our lives that God puts there for a reason who should be feared to some degree. The most obvious case is God Himself, who has the capacity (and even propensity) to discipline His own (Heb 12:5-12). In many cases it is those in authority -- husbands, masters, government. In the case of defending the Gospel it could be people who might do you damage. We need to understand this biblical concept of "respect", not in the sense of "admire", but in the sense of a positive view along with a realization of the danger of going astray. Wives, servants, citizens, if you're a believer and not viewing those in authority in this way, it is a sin. We aren't commanded to admire them; we're commanded to respect and fear them. Christians, when you give people a reason for the hope within you, do so with gentleness and respect. Do it as those wishing to obey Christ.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Used To Be

I've often complained that our language is changing. You say "marriage" and I say "marriage" and we mean two radically different things. What you mean by "tolerance" and what the dictionary says "tolerance" means are quite often not the same thing. You know what I mean. The truth is, however, that language does change. In one sense it's not only obvious; it's necessary. Before they invented the "television" there was no word for that thing they had not invented. After they did, it became necessary. And because it's a living language (not a dead one like ancient Hebrew or Latin, for instance), it stands to reason that things will change. I just wish they would stick with the former -- new words for new concepts -- rather than the current mode of redefining existing concepts and then expecting us all to still be on the same page.

The fact that English is a living language and, therefore, is in constant flux means that I appear to be in constant flux as well. How is that? Well, consider. In March, 2007, I wrote an entry titled, "Why I Am A Calvinist", and in September, 2007, an entry titled, "Why I am NOT a Calvinist." Why? Because perceptions about the term vary. In October of this year I wrote, "Why I am Not a Conservative" simply because the term is so far off of what I am despite the fact that most people would classify me as one. The language changes and, apparently, so do I.

Even though I am a registered Republican, I am not a Republican. I may be what "Republican" stood for in the '60's(?), but the Republican values of today don't really reflect mine. They used to support traditional marriage; no longer. They once defended religious liberty; not the case anymore. It's no longer fashionable to protect our national symbols. The first woman to serve in the House of Representatives was a Republican. It was a Republican president who abolished slavery and a Republican president who signed the Clean Air Act into law and a Republican president who appointed the first female Supreme Court judge. Republicans used to be the party of low taxes and small government. They were the party of strong military and individual rights and pro-life. No longer. Obviously things have changed. The Founding Fathers included "No taxation without representation" in their call for what is right. I don't think I've been represented in the government for a long time. I'm not really a Republican anymore; I just have nowhere else to go.

I used to be "saved". That term lost so much meaning that we had to change it to "born again". That term followed suit and we're still trying to find something to convey that we're not so much "religious", but in a saving relationship with Christ.

I used to be a Christian, but that term has been so long abused and misused so as to be barely recognizable. No, not a "Roman Catholic" kind of Christian as the media thinks it is. No, not a "Christian of the Crusades" kind of Christian as so many anti-Christians seem to think it is. No, not a "I call myself that but I live however I want" kind of Christian as so many live today. No, not a "I believe in Jesus; it's all that Bible and religion stuff I hate" kind of Christian as a growing number see themselves. I suspect that if you were to ask the majority of people what a "Christian" was, I'd have to say, "No, I'm not that."

I used to be a "Fundamentalist". In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while Protestants were soaking themselves in theological liberalism and cultural modernism, "Fundamentalism" stood up and said, "Hey! We need to get back to the fundamentals!" There are a variety of "fundamentals", depending on who you ask, but basically it was the inerrancy of Scripture, the literal nature of Scripture, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and His substitutionary atonement on our behalf. Boy, is that all gone now. "Fundamentalist" was yanked out of that position and thrown under the "crazy" bus. Now it refers to those loony enough to blow themselves up for their jihad. It refers to the nutcases who call themselves "Christian" (again, that term, meaning something completely different) who throw out what the Bible has to say and rant about how God hates homosexuals and the like. Not the same thing. I'm not that fundamentalist.

I used to be an "Evangelical". The term used to refer to a particular, narrowed theological line of the general classification of "Christian" (See? There's that term again.) that referred to those who believed strongly in the centrality of the Gospel, the need for conversion, the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of the Word of God, and the importance of the Cross. (Yes, it was similar to and even, perhaps, an outcropping of "Fundamentalism".) It came about as other groups were jettisoning all that in favor of ... something else. Something less. It doesn't mean that anymore. In our world a person can be an "Evangelical" and reject the Gospel, reject Scripture, even reject Christ. Someone stole the word at some point and it has become more of a "you doggone politically conservative religious types" kind of term. For instance, when you read that "81% of white Evangelicals voted for Trump", you realize we're not using the term in the same way. I'm not the current "Evangelical".

So, I'm suffering an identity crisis of sorts, I suppose. I know who I am. I know what I believe. Unfortunately, so many people apply so many terms and so many stereotypes based on those terms to me without any accuracy (or, apparently, any concern for accuracy) that it's becoming rather difficult to explain what I believe, what I am, how I view things. Rest assured. If you read something here and think, "Oh, he's one of those ______," you're very likely wrong. I may have been once, back when that word meant something else, but I only used to be. That word has changed.

Monday, January 01, 2018

A Nightmare

I had a dream the other night. Apparently I was to be part of an arranged marriage. (Never knew who arranged it.) The girl I was supposed to marry was nobody I actually know. She was nice, pleasant, attractive, and even willing. In the dream, I wasn't married, but in the dream I was also vaguely aware that I was. I took her aside and told her a little bit about me. "You don't know what I'm like. I'm a nice enough fellow, but you wouldn't be happy with me." I woke up.

It was a nightmare. Why? Because it wasn't my wife.

I woke up next to my beloved bride and thought how grateful I am to have her. I told the truth in my dream. I'm a nice enough fellow, but no one would be happy being married to me -- no one, that is, except my wife. She doesn't tolerate me; she seems to enjoy me, seems to be happy about my presence. Miracle of miracles ... she even likes my humor. (To anyone that knows me personally, that's big!)

I really can't say enough good things about my wife, as anyone who has read this blog might know. This is our 25th anniversary, and my dear wife and I are happier together than ever. I thank God for the gift she is to me and pray that I can be the husband God calls me to be to her, if we live that long, for another 25 years.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Unclear on the Question

When bad things happen, it is very common to assume that it occurs as a judgment from God. Very common. When fires scorch California or hurricanes cause devastation, you'll often hear some well-meaning-but-likely-misguided individual jumping to the conclusion, "It's God's judgment on America." It may be, or it may not, but it's common. I remember when Katrina hit in the first decade of the 21st century there were loud voices saying, "It's God's judgment for our embracing of homosexual sin" or the like. "Do you know how much gambling goes on along the Gulf Coast?" That kind of thing.

I am quick to suggest that these people ... well ... think again. Not all "bad things" are judgment from God. I say this because ... well ... Jesus did ... on more than one occasion. When the disciples came across the man blind from birth, they assumed "blind from birth" = "bad things" and "bad things" = "judgment from God", so they asked the obvious question. "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" (John 9:2) Jesus answered ... wait for it ... "Neither." (John 9:3) According to Jesus in this instance the man was born blind "so that the works of God might be displayed in him."

Another time some reported to Him about some Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1). It's interesting. It says they reported, but Jesus appears to detect a question behind the report, because He answered them. They clearly supposed, just as the disciples had, that "bad things" = "judgment from God", and Jesus knew it. So He corrected them.
And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-5)
These people clearly assumed that people that suffered "bad things" were worse sinners than those who didn't because "bad things" was a judgment from God. Jesus told them, in essence, "You're asking the wrong question. Not 'Aren't these sinners worse than me?', but 'Why have they experienced this but I haven't?'"

Paul wrote, "When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding." (2 Cor 10:12) The problem is the standard. We start with "I'm not too bad" and conclude "If something bad happens to them, they must be worse than I am." Jesus said that every single one of us has earned what the "worst of us" gets. The question is not "How bad are they?" The question is, "Why am I not also being judged?"

We're pretty clear on what "they" are doing wrong. We're pretty muddled about the magnitude of our own wretchedness. If we were clearer on that point, the result is a given. He who is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). Are you waning, at times, in your passion for Christ? It might be because you've lost sight of the magnitude of His grace and mercy toward you. Remind yourself of that, and you might find yourself loving Him anew (Rev 2:4-5).

For 2018, then, here's a resolution we might try.
Resolved: Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.
Feel free to quote me on that if you wish.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

News Weakly - 12/30/17

God gave them up to a debased mind
Canada has a "summer jobs" program in which the government provides funding for small businesses to hire full-time students for a summer job to gain work experience and some income. Nice. But they've just changed the rules. Now, in order to be eligible for this funding, an employer must affirm the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. "So?" Those rights and freedoms include "reproductive rights" and no discrimination on the basis of, among other things, "sexual orientation or gender identity or expression." In other words, if you are an employer -- say, a church or a Christian employer -- and you would like to offer some student(s) a job through this program, you will need to affirm the murder of children in the womb and deny that the Bible is clear on homosexual behavior and gender. Oh, it gets worse. The government calls this a "blueprint for moral conformity." No, it's not just a policy; it is a morality code, a statement of what will be regarded as moral. In this, it overrides religion, Scripture, what God has to say on the matter, anything else. It does this while affirming "freedom of conscience and religion" and "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression." They intentionally place sexual orientation as a higher moral value than religious freedom or religious equality. In other words, the Canadian government has lost its collective mind.

Kind of what you would expect if Scripture is right (Rom 1:28; Rom 8:7).

National Pastime
It used to be, at least in word, that baseball was America's national pastime. I think we're so over that. Now? I think the obvious choice is litigation.

Eight northeastern states have sued the EPA because of pollution in the Midwest. They want to be part of the "Ozone Transport Region".

Three cities are suing the Pentagon because of failures to report some crimes to the national database for gun control. It was spurred by the mass shooting in Texas. (None of the cities suing the Pentagon are in Texas.)

Men are suing Iliza Shlesinger for her "Girls Night in with Iliza — No Boys Allowed" show. Perhaps it's fair, considering the number of women who sued "men only" clubs and such for the same thing. It's just ... come on ... does everything have to be a lawsuit?

On the other hand, the court threw out the Trump administration's appeal to reinstate the ban on transgender enlistments. The court gets to decide who is suitable for military service, not the president or the Pentagon.

Who's Telling the Truth?
The billboard in Phoenix, aimed at encouraging Arizonans to legalize marijuana, tells readers that there has been no increase in marijuana usage since Colorado legalized it a couple of years ago. A recent study would beg to differ. Marijuana use among pregnant women is up ... way up. "Among pregnant teens younger than 18, marijuana use climbed from 12.5% to 21.8%, and among women 18 to 24, marijuana use climbed from 9.8% to 19%, the researchers found." Who, do you suppose, is telling the truth?

Unclear on the Concept
The World Health Organization (WHO) is planning to classify gaming addiction as a behavior addiction. Fine. On the other hand, "I have all the body parts of a male but I think I'm a female" is not a mental health issue while "I'm white but I think I'm black" is. I suppose we should have a high level of confidence that the WHO is competent to make such a classification.

The Penalty Stands
Once again the courts have ruled that the feelings of homosexuals outweigh the Constitutional rights of Christians. They ruled that the Oregon baker owed the lesbian couple $135,000 for emotional distress. Clearly violating their freedom of speech and freedom of religion overrides the (not Constitutionally protected) feelings of the few. Perhaps this isn't news; Constitutional rights for Christians are in a general decline. And we're still waiting for the SCOTUS to rule on the same issue in the case before them. Perhaps God can work there as He did in this case.

My Bad
Yeah, I apologize. I missed this. I thought Jesus cared about sin, but apparently they've found the lost fragment from the Gospels where Jesus actually affirms everyone's sin. From the Gospel of Mark, it reads,
And so Jesus went up to the mountainside to preach to the crowd, saying, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, you're beautiful no matter what they say. Don't ever change."
My mistake.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Sex Problem

Mindy Belz of World Magazine wrote an article about the "Great Sexual Reckoning", this flood of harassment cases we're looking at for the last half of 2017. They remind us "that sex is sacred and transgression is costly." Mindy is not wrong; sex is sacred and transgression is costly. But I wonder ... are the people who are bringing the accusations doing so because they think sex is sacred? I don't think so.

It is true that God holds sex between humans in high regard. The command is "Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge." (Heb 13:4) When Paul lists the sins that will prevent people from entering the kingdom, he lists three sexual sins (1 Cor 6:9-10). Conversely, he speaks of marriage as the union of two people and concludes, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." (Eph 5:31-32) Very important to God. Clearly far more important to Him than to most humans. For the majority it's more recreation than procreation, more fun than union, more physical pleasure than spiritual mystery. Yes, sex is sacred and transgression is costly.

I just don't think that the people bringing charges these days are doing so because they think it is. I think they're doing so because they think they are. God is not particularly sacred to society these days, but self is. "It's my body." Nothing can violate that. "It made me feel uncomfortable." No one should be made to feel uncomfortable. "They created a hostile work environment." All hostility is bad. Not just bad, evil. Not just evil, worthy of a big payout.

Now, be careful. "So, you're defending these monsters?" No, not in the least. I'm saying that Mindy there was right, that God sees sex as sacred and transgression is costly. I'm saying sexual abuse is bad. I'm actually saying that it's worse than most think. They think, "That poor person's rights were violated." I'm thinking, "God's glory has not been served." Much, much worse. Definitely not defending them. But those who, based on their own elevated sense of importance, complain about such things are guilty of their own violation, the violation of God's rights. Not too many are concerned about that, are they?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

People Are Too Much

There is a famous line from the popular comic strip, Peanuts, where Linus says, "I love mankind ... it's people I can't stand!" Sure, it's intended as humor, but I think there's a salient point here. You see, while we know that we are made in God's image and, therefore, have God-given value, there are just some people who make it hard to remember. Let's face it; people will let you down. That crazy driver, that neglectful spouse, that unkind parent, that ungrateful child, the friend who can't be bothered to call you ... ever. They're everywhere, people who aren't the best reflections of the image of God. Likely every one of us falls into that category sooner or later. So, what to do?

It is easy to become a curmudgeon, that cranky old man yelling, "You kids get off my lawn!" "People? Who needs 'em?" The more society feeds their anti-God bias, the less pleasant society becomes and the easier it is to feel distressed, hurt, or resentful. This, of course, won't work for Christians. Our highest instructions are 1) love God and 2) love your neighbor, so "I don't like people" isn't going to fly. How, then, should a Christian who has been hurt or has tendencies to be negative toward people (perhaps even with just cause) manage this problem?

We suffer from megalomania of a sort. We think "It's all about me" even when we're not consciously doing so. "What's in it for me?" is the first, even if unspoken, question we ask about whatever we're considering. We even go to church to "get fed", to "be blessed" ... to get served. Scripture, on the other hand, appears to instruct us to an entirely opposite perspective -- an "others" perspective. Instead of a life lived to get what we can out of it, the Christian life is a life lived to give what we can. It is a life aimed at glorifying God and loving people. When Paul says his famous, "My God shall supply all your needs" (Phil 4:19), he's not talking about a Mercedes and two vacation homes; he's talking about everything you need to do what God requires.

So, think about that. If you are living on God's supply aiming to glorify God and love people, in what sense will people be a problem to you? They can't let you down because you're not expecting anything from them. They can't disappoint you because you aren't basing your relationship with them on hopes and expectations of them. If you are not living from people, but to people, you are essentially immune to their shortcomings.

I would suggest that when we feel cheated by others, it will likely be because we were expecting something from others. When we are frustrated by others, it is likely because we were hoping for something from them rather than what we can give them. Sure, people let us down and people hurt us. It's a given. One of the common traits of all human beings is that they're "only human" ... you know. But I would suggest that the best and right way to deal with it is not to become bitter or frustrated, but to repent of your own self-centered thinking and figure out what you have from God that you can give them instead. We -- I -- need to stop being here to "get" and be here to glorify God and love our neighbors. A life lived for God and others is a life well-lived, not wasted. All that other stuff is peripheral.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Now That We Know

(or "An Exercise in Sarcasm")

It used to be that much of God's views was well known, already clear, largely accepted among His people. We all knew that we are saved by grace apart from works. We all accepted that sex was reserved for marriage and the biblical sexual morality was monogamy (which, by the way, included "one marriage", not just "one sex partner"). We all accepted that homosexual behavior was a sin. Lots of stuff. Used to be.

We live in enlightened times. We now know that all that stuff about "men lying with men" and "women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature" (Rom 1:26-27) (see also 1 Cor 6:9-10) was not what we thought it was. Wise Christians have come out (small pun there) to point out that all Christians of all history were mistaken on this point. It's no sin. Well, it begs the question. Where else did we miss it?

One point that was never in question was the concept of marriage. And by "never" I mean not even in the secular mind. Marriage for all time has been the union of a man and a woman for purposes of procreation and mutual support. Always, be it Christian or not. Practices differed. Sometimes there is a preference for "church weddings" and sometimes there is the basic "a man and a woman" with the option of multiplying that practice, but for all time a man is not married until he weds one woman and a woman is not married until she weds one man and "marriage" is defined. Repeat (polygamy)? Perhaps, but that's the definition ... until now. The Bible says, "A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Eph 5:31), but today we know better. All this time for all the world they were wrong. It can mean a man and a man or a woman and a woman might do the same. So wrong for so long.

Clearly the whole "monogamy", "sex in marriage only" thing was a mistake. Christian swingers swap partners and work to spread God's word (a quote from the article). Open Christian polyamorists declare their heartfelt love for God. Sure, the Bible says "Flee sexual immorality", but, look, just what is sexual immorality? Studies suggest that Christians divorce, have children out of wedlock, and commit "sexual immorality" at the same rates as non-Christians, so obviously we were wrong for all this time on that subject as well. (Note: There are lots of websites that argue precisely this point, calling themselves "liberated Christians". I will not offer those links.)

As we pursue this line of thinking, it turns out that very little of what we thought we knew can be trusted. Jesus did not die for our sins; He just died to be an example or something like that. We are not saved by grace through faith; that's just a starting point after which our works save us. Did Jesus even actually rise from the dead, or was that just a "spiritual resurrection"? Oh, no, we can't say for sure. We've managed, in our enlightened years, to clear up all the confusion that the Holy Spirit wrought in the first 2000 years of the Church. Now we're quite sure that "gay" is good, sex is not just for marriage anymore, that, in fact, marriage isn't clear at all. "Sexual immorality" is a dim concept that we don't really grasp, "murdering babies in the womb" is a throw-back to a confused idea of the value of human life, and "saved by grace" means "You're pretty much free to do what you want without anyone telling you you're wrong." You thought the Bible was God-breathed and sufficient to complete and equip you (2 Tim 3:15-16)? Think again.

What, with all the redefinition of terms -- "tolerance", "judgmentalism", "marriage", "God's Word" and so forth -- that we have today, we're pretty clear that nothing is pretty clear anymore. The "age of enlightenment" is upon us. Not "enlightenment" in the sense that "We can now more clearly see the truth," but "enlightenment" in the sense that "We no longer have to bear the burdens of biblical morality." We've managed to defeat that pesky sin of "certainty". Now that we know better than all those Christians from all those centuries, Christianity is a much better thing. Oh, not at all what you might see in the Bible, but did God really say all that stuff?