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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Church is Boring

One of the top complaints you will hear about church is just that: "Church is boring." It is my suspicion that if you think that's so, you are missing something absolutely critical about church. I think you're missing the magnitude of the church.

We tend to think of "the church" as the building on the corner. "We have lots of churches where I live." That's not what's in mind when the Bible talks about the church. The term refers to the "called out ones" and the gathering thereof. There will be, in those gatherings, what Jesus referred to as "tares", weeds among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30), but the church is the gathering of the wheat, not the weeds. As such, it is much bigger than any building or group gathering, small or large.
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb 12:22-24)
The text is huge. And it isn't a reference to "someday" -- it is now. When we gather, we gather in a huge spiritual company. It includes "innumerable angels" and "the assembly of the firstborn" and "the spirits of the righteous made perfect." Sure, you knew God was there, but did you know it wasn't that meager gathering of those in the room? Did you know that it was so very big? It includes all the saints that are in attendance and so much more.

Brothers and sisters, when we gather to worship God, we do it in the presence of all this. That we could consider worshiping in the presence of God and Christ and the Spirit as boring is bad enough. That we could consider it boring to be in this place with this crowd is unconscionable. There are a few possible explanations: 1) "I didn't believe it." 2) "I don't care." 3) "I didn't know." The first is simply a denial of the plain Word of God. The problem here, then, is something a lot more than worship; it is a serious question of relationship. The second is a similar problem. If this is true and someone doesn't care, there is a genuine question that should be pursued regarding the reality of their relationship with Christ. The third is something that you can address right now. Right now -- now that you see it there in Scripture -- you can correct your ignorance and recognize the sheer magnitude of the "church" -- its size, its purpose, its glory. You can get a sense of "the communion of the saints," the union with saints everywhere and the angels and the entire Godhead all at once. If that is boring to you, then you're doing something wrong. If joining with all believers everywhere and everywhen to glorify God is boring to you, there is another problem ... and it's not the church.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

News Weakly - 8/18/18

You're Not Welcome Here
As has been done for decades, Greg Laurie's Harvest Crusade was advertised for this week in a variety of malls and billboards in southern California. This year, however, it was deemed unacceptable. They first said it was because of the nondescript book he was holding. You and I would know it was a Bible -- there were no overt references to Christ or Christianity -- but the picture isn't clear. And when they changed it to just a picture of Greg Laurie, it was still not sufficient. There was "at least one 'serious threat'" along with "multiple complaints," so the company Harvest had hired took them all down. John Collins, the executive director of Harvest, said, "It's sad that our culture is at this degree of intolerance."

The story speaks for itself.

Insane Politics
The opening paragraph says it all. "A former utility executive from Vermont has become the first transgender candidate to win a major political party’s nomination for governor." Because a person who ignores science and can't figure out "male" or "female" is the one you certainly want to run your state. A related story was more omnious than it intended to be, I'm sure. "Transgender rights advocates touted Christine Hallquist’s victory in Vermont’s Democratic gubernatorial race as a 'defining moment' for the United States." Indeed, proving the biblical, "As they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind ..." (Rom 1:28).

Modern society says, "We don't subscribe to a binary gender perspective nor limit genders to biology." Scripture says, "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27). It's amazing how much modern society has improved on God's original design, diminishing His "in God's image" aspect and expanding His "binary gender" idea.

Can Someone Tell Me ...
... how this works? We have this mad rush to #MeToo and "no more sexual harassment" ... and France offers outdoor, open air urinals along the Seine. I mean, seriously. What could go wrong? Let me count the ways.

Never Thought I'd See the Day
Turns out a black person might be called on the carpet for making a racial slur after all. I thought it was solely the purview of caucasians, but a black Detroit legislator has apologized for making a racial slur against an Asian opponent. Bad for her, but at least someone noticed that "this person" (regardless of skin color) demeaning "that person" (who is of a different skin color) simply on the basis of being a different skin color is racism regardless of who "this person" is.

Watch out, people. You might be seeing a hole in the "double standard" standard. Or not.

Insecurity Clearance
As we all know, former CIA director John Brennan's security clearance was revoked this week. Now retired Admiral William McRaven has "requested" that his be revoked as well in a show of solidarity with Brennan. Touching, I'm sure. I'm just wondering ... why should either of these people have security clearances? They needed them for their jobs, but they're not doing those jobs anymore. Security clearances are not for life. What is at issue here? I had a top secret security clearance when I was in the Air Force and I don't have one anymore. Why aren't they complaining on my behalf? Okay, President Trump revoked Brennan's clearance more than a year after he was out of his CIA position and he said it was because the guy was unreliable. Shouldn't we be talking about that rather than security clearances? Admiral McRaven retired in 2014 and has been Chancellor for the University of Texas System since 2015. Why does he still have a clearance at all? Or should I be offended that they removed mine?

Look, we knew a long time ago that Trump was petty and wouldn't tolerate those who disagreed with him. As far as he goes, we're only getting what we voted for. Seems like the American voter is to blame on this count. But finding presidents (or CEOs or people in general) that don't prefer people who agree with them to people who do not is nearly impossible.

The Upside of Killing Children
This week Chelsea Clinton happily informed a "Rise Up for Roe" event -- a gathering in opposition to Brett Kavanaugh and in favor of abortion -- that Roe v Wade added $3.5 trillion to our economy. See? And you thought there was no benefit to murdering children. Now we have it in cold hard cash figures. So, what is the value of a human life? Chelsea appears to something around $58,000, calculating from the $3.5 trillion and the 60 million Roe v Wade murders since 1973. Good to know, since "made in the image of the Creator" carries no value anymore.

Besides, giving women the right to murder their babies is a Christian virtue, don't you know? I mean, if the woman doesn't want the baby and Jesus came to give us the abundant life, aren't you robbing her of what Jesus came to give her? So, economically and as Christians it's beneficial to kill children. Right?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Those Sinners in Your Church

My wife and I go to a nice church. We have good teachers, good preachers, good fellowship, good friends, good stuff. I'm not writing about our church; I'm writing about yours. You have sinners in your church. You know it. That well-known guy who was seen coming out of a bar late one night. The wife of one who had an affair with the husband of another. The high school girl who is pregnant out of wedlock. You know. Sinners. What are you going to do?

Of course, I'm not being completely up front here. We have sinners in our church, too. And I'm still being a little vague, because if you are part of a church, it has sinners ... by definition. Why? Because the only way to become part of the church (the called-out ones) is to begin with the admission that you're a sinner without the means to solve that problem. Step One. So everyone in church is either a self-proclaimed sinner saved by grace through faith or a sinner who is pretending to be saved. The Christian life is one of increasing love for God that produces an increasing desire for obedience. That's the direction. But perfection is out of our reach in this life (Phil 3:12). So, what are you going to do? Righteous indignation? Moral outrage? Holier-than-thou shunning. Or maybe nothing, since we're all sinners.

They might be what you could expect, but that's not what Scripture says. God's Word says we have all sinned (Rom 3:23) and we will all continue to sin (1 John 1:8-9; 1 John 2:1). That's not the end of the story. Paul wrote, "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted" (Gal 6:1). We have an assignment ... from God -- restore brothers who sin. This process was detailed by no less than Christ Himself (Matt 18:15-20). We don't ignore sin in the Body (1 Cor 5:6-7); we address it. But the goal is not retribution or vengeance or punishment or justice. All of that is God's job. The goal is restoration. In Jesus's approach, the first step was "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother" (Matt 18:15). Winning your brother is the aim.

So what do we do? The very first step is easy. John wrote, "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life" (1 John 5:16). Pray. Pray for repentance. Pray for life. Pray for your own approach -- "in a spirit of gentleness" (Gal 6:1). Then we need to address sin personally (Matt 18:15) and pursue it further if necessary (Matt 18:16-17). God's Word does give some harsh measures that may be required. If after addressing the sin personally, then with a couple of other people, and then with the church, it might be necessary to "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matt 18:17). Paul said "not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one" (1 Cor 5:11). The worst case appears to be "to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh" (1 Cor 5:5), but even that is "so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." (In fact, it looks like that was the result of the event in 1 Cor 5:5; see 2 Cor 2:6-8.) Some harsh measures, but always with gentleness and always with an aim to restore them to fellowship.

These days the tendency is to ignore sin in the church. Brothers and sisters, we do not well. It isn't pretty and it isn't pleasant, but if we are to obey Christ and love the brethren, we need to bear one another's burdens, to urge repentance and restoration, to love each other enough to do the hard thing in their best interest. I'm not talking about self-righteous moral outrage. I'm talking about restoration for the sake of your spiritual family members. Or you. Or me. Sometimes it might be us, too. But in no case is, "That's okay; you go ahead and defy God and we'll just keep quiet over here" a loving thing to do. And we are commanded to love, especially believers (John 13:35; John 15:17; 1 John 3:17-18; 1 John 4:7; et.al.).

Thursday, August 16, 2018

How Can I Know? 1 John

John tells us his purpose in writing his first epistle.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
The whole purpose was that you may know that you have eternal life. Note that it was written to specific people. It's not for everyone. It is written "to you who believe in the name of the Son of God." But the intent is clear. You can know that you have eternal life.

It is interesting, then, to read through John's repeated use of the phrase, "By this we know." Since "knowing" was his reason for writing it, "by this we know" is a helpful concept. In fact, John uses this kind of wording eight times in his little epistle. Beyond that, there's a whole lot of "knowing" going on in 1st John.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says "I know Him" but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:1-6)
I had to give you that whole text because it contains several essential elements in the question of assurance. First, note that the primary question is relationship. The primary question is "Have I come to know Him?" It is the failure of those in Matt 7:21-23 where Jesus declares, "I never knew you." You are saved if you have a genuine relationship with Christ -- with the Christ of the Bible. Second, the test is obedience. We know we have a relationship with Him if we keep His commandments. This isn't news. Jesus said the same thing (John 14:15, 23-24). The test of relationship is in what we do. Makes sense. "I love God but have no interest in pleasing Him" makes no sense. At this point the third element in this text becomes vital. "Does this mean that if I don't obey perfectly I can't be assured of salvation?" Not at all. John said "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate." That is, we all sin (1 John 1:8). The obedience in view here, then, is not "sinless perfection," but a direction. If you aim toward less sin and more obedience, you can be confident that you have a relationship with Christ. If you figure you're doing fine where you are or just don't really concern yourself over it, you might need to ask the question. If "What does the Lord require of me?" isn't one of your primary questions, you might need to see if you're even in the faith.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)
John offers certain knowledge here. We can know that we have been saved -- that we have already passed from death to life. What is the test? "We love the brothers." Simple. Do you consider fellow believers of some importance? Do you seek their company, enjoy their fellowship, care about their well-being? Do you actively love believers (1 John 3:17-18)? It was Jesus's idea that this would demonstrate to the world that you are His disciple (John 13:35). For you, not so much? You might need to examine your relationship with Christ.

These two ideas -- obedience and love of the brethren -- are repeated in John's epistle.
By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. Whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in Him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:16-24)
This one sounds a lot like Paul's idea in Romans. "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom 8:16). But remember, that isn't just a warm feeling, a secret conversation between your heart and the Spirit. It is predicated on a changed person who is putting to death the deeds of the flesh, who is walking by the Spirit, who is no longer that same person that pursued sin. If you have had a change of heart, a new direction, a new motivation to pursue God rather than self, that is clear evidence. No one can be born of God and powered by the Spirit without a change. If you think you're a Christian and don't really change much ...
You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:4-6)
How do we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error? The spirit of error is "from the world." If "the world listens to them," it is error. We can know this. Who are you listening to? What is your source? If your source is the world's wisdom and you are evaluating God and His Word by the world's standards, you might have something to be concerned about.

How about this one?
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2-3)
Now, perhaps you already see the connection. Remember that we already learned that one way we know that we have passed out of death into life is if we love God's people. So how do we know if we love God's people? "When we love God and observe His commandments." Nice packaging, isn't it? Loving God and obeying Him is evidence that we are saved. Loving God and obeying Him is how we love the children of God. It's all tied up neatly. That is, if you are loving God, obeying Him, and loving His people. If not, there might be a need for reconsidering your spiritual condition.

Now, remember, this isn't a "pass-fail" kind of thing. The command, for instance, is to love God with all our hearts, mind, souls, and strength. Not one of us does that. So the point is not absolute obedience or else. The point is direction. You see, if it is true that the mind set on the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:7-8), then anyone whose aim is to please God by loving Him and obeying Him is demonstrating a changed heart. If these things are yours and increasing, you can have confidence before God. Not perfection; direction. None of this is unattainable (Phil 2:13). Either you're headed one direction -- loving God, His commands, and His people -- or you're not. Away from self or toward self. Pursuing God's Word and God's will over against (rather than in accordance with) the world's views and values. Ask yourself. You're the one who has to answer.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

How Can You Know? A Surprise Answer

Assurance of salvation is a good thing. At least, it's a good thing if it's true. We know there are people with assurance of salvation that shouldn't be so sure (Matt 7:21-23). But we also know that Scripture assures us we can know (1 John 5:13). So we look through the pages of God's Word and we find different hints, different clues, different tests that can help us to know -- rightly know -- that we belong to God. The one I mentioned yesterday was the testimony of the Holy Spirit, but that had to be rightly understood. It wasn't "I feel or sense that the Holy Spirit agrees with me that I'm saved." It was actually living by the Spirit -- "putting to death the deeds of the flesh." Paul says that the deeds of the flesh are evident (Gal 5:16-21) and the fruit of the Spirit are evident (Gal 5:22-25) and we can see which is us and which is not. (And remember, like Peter said, "If these qualities are yours and are increasing ..." meaning that it isn't that you've arrived at perfection, but the presence at all and the direction you're heading.)

Today I want to offer a perhaps surprising biblical test.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Heb 12:5-8)
I suspect you didn't see that coming, did you?

The author of Hebrews is abundantly clear here. First, God disciplines His own. Not maybe -- definitely. Second, it is not pleasant discipline. We know that it includes but is not limited to teaching because the text actually says that He "chastises" every son. The word references the use of a whip -- "scourges." The context speaks of unpleasant discipline (Heb 12:4, 11). The idea is that our loving Father applies directed and painful teaching techniques and corrections for our benefit. No one escapes it because we all need correction and we all need painful correction at times.

I've pointed this out to people in conversations on occasion and I've been told, "No, God doesn't do that" and, worse, "He never has done that to me." If that is your response, then you have a problem. "If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." Not my opinion. Not my judgment. That's what it says. That is the test offered by God in His Word.

Have you ever been corrected by God? Have you ever been turned from sin, pushed away from where you wanted to go by trial and difficulty? God disciplines His own. His discipline is intentional, corrective, purposeful, and useful. It isn't punishment as much as it is redirection. The purpose of this kind of discipline and chastisement is restoration, not retribution. Paul describes Scripture as "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16). God uses discipline for reproof -- "Here is an error" -- and correction -- "Here's how you get back to the path." It isn't a matter of justice -- payback, making things balanced -- but of restoration and training in righteousness. And, in fact, that correlation of the use of Scripture and God's discipline is important. How do I know if what I am currently suffering is God's correction? Scripture. Read God's Word.

One other point I found interesting in the text. He wrote, "It is for discipline that you have to endure." Interesting, because Jesus said, "The one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matt 10:22; Matt 24:13). Endurance and discipline are interlinked, and endurance and assurance of salvation are interlinked. Interesting, isn't it? Because, you see, as it turns out your salvation and your enduring in it are a product of God's work, not your own. Thus, we endure because He disciplines, and if we endure (because He disciplines), we will be saved. A sure thing.

If you have been corrected by God, especially painfully, this text suggests you are a son who has been disciplined by a loving Father. As such, that pain is profitable, the product of love. If you have not, this passage warns you that you might need to reevaluate your relationship with the Father. Something to think about.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How Can You Know? One Way

On yesterday's question regarding assurance of salvation, one of the most popular verses you might find is found in Paul's epistle to the church at Rome.
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. (Rom 8:16)
That's it. Pretty straightforward. We can all see it and understand it. If I feel like the Spirit of God agrees with my spirit that I'm a child of God, then I am. It's as simple as that.

But it is? Is our certainty of salvation based primarily, perhaps entirely, on a "good feeling," some "supernatural sense"? Is that really what Paul wrote? Let's look again.
(10) If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. (11) But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (12) So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — (13) for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (14) For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (15) For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" (16) The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, (17) and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Rom 8:10-17)
Perhaps context will help clarify. Paul starts out talking about the glorious truth that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom 8:1). But then he needs to explain what "in Christ" actually means. He differentiates between the Spirit and the flesh and points out how the flesh can't do anything good (Rom 8:2-8). In verse 9 he says that those who have the Spirit of God in them are not in the flesh. Which leads us to our passage.

The claim is that "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God." Is this just a feeling, a spiritual sense? The text doesn't allow for that. Paul says that those with the Spirit have life through His Spirit (v 11). He says that we are under obligation to live according to the Spirit (v 13-14). He says that those who live by the Spirit "are putting to death the deeds of the body" (v 13). The claim that the Spirit's testimony that we are children of God is a feeling or a spiritual sense is, basically, nonsense. Try it in court someday. "Your honor, I wish to give testimony. I feel like that guy is not guilty." That's not a witness. Paul is saying that the witness of the Spirit is real. It is demonstrated in a changed life. It is demonstrated in a sense of obligation to be obedient to God and a sense of family with God as Father and His people (Rom 8:28-29). It is demonstrated in being new.

Jesus gave us the allegory of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46). In the final judgment, the "sheep" and the "goats" will be separated. One group Christ will commend for what they did and the other Christ will condemn for what they didn't do. What, then, is the difference between the sheep and the goats? Don't make the mistake of thinking that it is in what they did and didn't do. The difference between them is that one category is sheep and the other is goats. That they are different is demonstrated by what they do, but that's not what makes them different; it only shows that they are.

Time and again Scripture talks about what we do. We know we are saved by grace apart from works (Eph 2:8-9). We know that if we were saved by what we do, it would be earned (Rom 4:4-5). We don't earn salvation. There is no doubt. The next misstep, however, is to assume, then, that works are irrelevant, and the Bible is clear that they are not. "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) It is the repeated message that those who belong to Christ naturally tend towards obedience in an ever-increasing manner, not in order to save, but as a result of being saved, of having a new life, of having God's Spirit in us. Works are a valid test according to Scripture. They don't save, but their absence suggests an absence of life. And the testimony of the Spirit with our spirit says, "Yes, I want to align myself with God" and goes on to demonstrate it ("being led by the Spirit of God"). Don't be fooled by the ever-popular lie, "I must be saved because I feel like it," some arbitrary "spiritual sense." If you are not "putting to death the deeds of the body," you might want to "test yourselves to see if you're in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Cor 13:5) Even if you have a "good feeling."

Monday, August 13, 2018

How Can You Know?

The Reformation of the 16th century was essentially targeted at the Roman Catholic Church's doctrines. The Reformers held to Sola Scriptura, the sole authority of Scripture on the faith and practice of believers, while the Roman Catholic Church stood on the authority of the Church and Tradition of equal or higher value than Scripture. The Reformers argued for election (as the Bible does in so many places) but the Roman Catholic Church denied it. The Reformers demonstrated that the Bible says you can know that you have eternal life; the Roman Catholic Church cursed the idea. The Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon XVI declares that if anyone believes that they can be certain that they will persevere in salvation to the end, "let him be anathema." Cursed. The official position of the Roman Catholic Church to this day is what we might term "Conditional Security" -- your only assurance of salvation is to remain faithful until the end. And you can't know that until, you know, the end.

It's not just the Catholics. Those Christians termed "Arminian" (even though they may not claim it, admit it, or even know it) assure us that true believers can and do lose their salvation. Big names like C.S. Lewis and Roger Olson have denied eternal security. They are certain you cannot know. I myself have been told on more than one occasion that I can have no assurance of my salvation. (I find it odd because the person telling me that seems to be quite certain of his own.) Salvation is available, but never sure. Confidence is okay, I suppose, but you can never have assurance of salvation.

Over against this idea you find Scripture. John wrote, "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). The author of Hebrews wrote, "Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith" (Heb 10:22). Paul declared, "I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Tim 1:12). These are about assurance as opposed to security. It is possible to have security without assurance. Security in salvation is what God does (e.g., Phil 1:6; John 10:28-29; Eph 4:30; Rom 8:38-39). Assurance is my recognition of it. It is entirely possible to be completely secured by God in salvation and to lack assurance of that security. It is equally possible to be quite assured of the possession of security that you don't actually have. But Scripture teaches that salvation is secured (by God) and, therefore, we can know (assurance) that we have eternal life. (Note: If you "have eternal life" and lose it, in what possible sense is it "eternal"? In what sense did you "have" it?)

Which all leads to my question. How do you know? How do you know that you are not one of those to whom Jesus referred in Matthew 7:21-23 who are quite sure they are "in" but are not? How do you know you're not fooling yourself? If you're quite sure -- you have assurance -- where does it come from? How can you know?

The question is a bit difficult at the outset given the biblical certainty that some will have assurance that they shouldn't have (Matt 7:21-23). On the other hand, there are actual, biblical tests we can apply. Peter wrote that we must make our "calling and election sure" and told how (2 Peter 1:5-10). As mentioned earlier, John wrote his first epistle for the purpose of helping us rightly ascertain that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Jesus said that the world can tell we are His if we love the brethren (John 13:35). Jesus said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Now, we know we can and will sin, so this isn't talking about sinless perfection (1 John 1:8-10; 2:1), but there is still a tool there. Paul wrote, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3), meaning that a Christian who does not acknowledge the Lordship of Christ is not a Christian (see also Rom 10:9). There are tests. Jesus told His disciples, "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:16). You should certainly check your own fruits. John wrote, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9). How are you with sin? Happy? Or not? There are tests. There are processes. There are facts to which we must agree and heart conditions that we must possess and attitudes we must have. It's not like they're not available. It's just that there are still those who are confident in their salvation when they shouldn't be, and I don't want to be that.

I have assurance of my salvation. I'm not asking for myself. But others may not. What do you have that gives you confidence that your relationship with God is real and alive? How do you know you're saved? What tests or verification do you use? I'm just wondering.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Heart for God

The Bible uses the word "heart" a lot. The ESV uses the terms "heart" or "hearts" over 900 times. And yet, I'm sure you know that it never refers to the internal organ we know as the heart. What, then?

According to Strong's, lêb is the Hebrew word most often translated "heart" and refers to "the feelings, the will, and even the intellect." It might refer to the center of anything, as in "the heart of the seas" (Jonah 2:3). It is the innermost part. In the New Testament, you'll never guess what the word is. The Greek word is kardia, obviously the origin of our English term, "cardio." Again, this refers to "the thoughts or feelings." So the term refers to the innermost part of us that is how we think and feel. (For the sake of numbers, these Hebrew and Greek terms occur over a thousand times in the Bible. If number of entries equates to importance, this must be important.)

We have a little difficulty with this. We typically think of "think," "feel," and "will" as different because, in fact, they are. Sometimes how we feel is in conflict with how we think and so on. So let's see if we can sort this out.

Scripture distinguishes between our outside and our hearts (1 Sam 16:7). The heart guides the mouth (Prov 16:23). Sin is a product of the heart (Mark 7:21). The heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9) and sinful (Prov 22:15). The heart thinks (Matt 9:4; Mark 2:8) and feels. The heart experiences joy (1 Sam 2:1) and sorrow (1 Sam 1:8), rage (2 Kings 6:11) and peace (Col 3:15), selfish ambition (James 3:14) and love (Rom 5:5), and more. Lust in the heart can be adultery (Matt 5:28). You can "lose heart" (Heb 12:3) and "take heart" (John 16:33). The heart desires (Prov 6:25), envies (Prov 23:17), and seeks God (Psa 119:2). The heart contains the conscience (1 Sam 24:5; Acts 2:37) and thus must be guarded (Prov 4:23). Above all else, we are to love God with all our hearts (Matt 22:37). The biblical condition of the heart that is most dangerous is the "hard heart" (Rom 2:5).

As the seat, then, of emotions and thoughts and the will, how does this work? We know these are distinct, but how distinct are they? We tend to think of them as quite different, but I'm convinced (especially from a biblical perspective) that they are quite tightly intertwined, and I think that if we understand this rightly, we can see that. Some people operate on their emotions, letting how they feel determine how they think and what they choose to do. You know ... "Follow your heart." Others are more intellectually motivated, preferring to think rationally rather than operate emotionally. (Note, however, that "think rationally rather than operate emotionally" includes the choices we make.) It is true that we have "inclinations," natural tendency to act a particular way. That's what drives our wills. But aren't those inclinations mostly how we think and how we feel? So perhaps we can see how all three work together -- the mind, the will, and the emotions -- so that each affects the other inextricably.

So when the Scriptures speak of a "hard heart" (Heb 3:7-9) or a "new heart" (Ezek 36:26), it appears that the idea is a change in thinking, feeling, and choosing. To extricate one from all the rest and focus there won't work. We know that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2), but that would be insufficient without a change in how we feel and how we act. Our inclinations -- what drives us to choose -- are primarily based on what we love. Thus, Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). That is, what you love determines what you do. Love Jesus, and you do what He wants. Our loves (emotion) determine our thoughts (mind) and decisions (will). Or, to put it another way, changed hearts make changed lives. It cannot be otherwise.

Scripture describes David as a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). That's the heart we need -- the heart to pursue God's own heart. So what does that mean? If I am to have a heart for God, I will need to be concerned about God's concerns. What is His highest priority? His glory. So my highest priority would need to be His glory. If I am to have a heart for God, my choices (will) and my thinking (mind) and my feelings (emotions) will need to align with His. I will need to love what He loves (e.g., Psa 37:28; John 16:26-27; Heb 12:6; Rom 9:13) and hate what He hates (e.g., Deut 12:31; Psa 5:5; Psa 11:5; Rom 9:13). I must rejoice in what He rejoices (e.g., Zeph 3:17; Luke 15:10) and weep over what He weeps over (e.g., Luke 19:41-44; Gen 6:5-6). I will need to enjoy what He enjoys (e.g., Psa 149:4; Col 3:20) and find abominable what He finds abominable (e.g., Lev 18:22; Deut 7:25; Prov 6:16-19).

But, you see, here there is an interesting shift that occurs. Suddenly the Christian life is not about duty and drudgery. If my heart is after God's heart, that means that what I love is what He loves. That is, I'm not "doing what I have to;" I'm doing what I love. The heart that has deep affections for what God has deep affections for is safeguarded against sin and enveloped in joy. John says, "His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). Why? Because when you're doing what you love it is no burden at all; it is a pleasure. A heart after God, then, is in your best interest. It is for your sanctification and your abundant life. It is a lifelong work with a new heart.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

News Weakly - 8/11/18

New Rights
In August, 2012, then President Obama instituted by executive order a program we know as DACA, the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program that was intended to provide some relief for children illegally in this country to become legal -- work permit, green card, citizenship ... something. It was not a law; it was an executive order. It was not permanent; it was temporary. And in June, 2017, President Trump ordered it to be rescinded in order to have Congress make it law. As it turns out, President Obama apparently had acquired incredible powers in his presidency, because apparently this temporary program that lasted 5+ years is not a mere executive order; it is a right. At least, that's what Federal Judge John D. Bates appears to believe. I guess 5 years was not sufficient time for the DACA recipients to become legal. Apparently the president does not have the right to rescind an executive order. At the same time, it appears it is not the job of the Congress to make such laws defending such rights. (If it was, wouldn't the judge just order them to?)

I'm sorry; I just don't understand the United States government at all. I guess it's time for someone else to use our Constitution and Declaration of Independence (where rights are conferred by the Creator rather than the Judicial Branch). We don't appear to be using them.

Hate Speech
This week Facebook, YouTube, and iTunes all pulled Alex Jones's InfoWars channel from their pages, citing "hate speech" as the issue. Spotify removed him last week.

I would not even begin to defend Alex Jones against the accusation. I think he is indefensibly hateful. I just need to point out that we've become so vague in our definition of "hate speech" (USLegal.com defines it as "any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women.") and what we find offensive while conversely ignoring clear hate speech, for instance, against Christianity that I'm not sure how to proceed on all this "hate speech" stuff. I mean, wouldn't "hate speech" imply ... you know ... hate? But if someone, say, quotes Scripture out of genuine concern and love for others, they can be fined or jailed in Canada for "hate speech" ... without any actual hate involved. I don't think we have any sort of handle on the term even though we're all pretty sure we know what it is.

Hierarchy of Sympathy
Kristi Hanna is a former paramedic who is struggling with lingering effects of sexual abuse. She went to a Toronto shelter for female recovering addicts and was forced to share a small double room with a "pre-operative male-to-female transgender person." She filed a formal complaint. Ontario's Human Rights Legal Support Centre told her that, "by describing her new roommate as a 'man,' Hanna was the one engaged in illegal discrimination." The victim of sexual abuse now becomes the criminal for recognizing that a person with male genitalia is a male. He had facial hair and spoke at their communal dinner about an ex-wife and a pregnant fiancé and about how some woman was "hot," but she's the one practicing illegal discrimination.

Here we see the hierarchy of sympathy. Women are currently high on the list. If the dispute is between a male and a female, the female typically wins in the public view. But transgender is higher. "You were sexually traumatized? Too bad. This guy feels like he's a girl, so get over it."

Signs of the Times
The New York Times reports that the entire top leadership of Willow Creek Church has resigned over the accusations of sexual harassment against Bill Hybels, the church's founding pastor. The leadership includes the lead pastor, Rev. Heather Larson, and the board of elders, including Missy Rasmussen and Pam Orr. They apologized for not listening to the accusers. They did not indicate why it was that the church was putting women in positions Scripture said it shouldn't, but I'm sure aligning with God's Word isn't really the big issue of the day. And the fact that the church applauded when the entire leadership (Their lead teaching pastor resigned on Sunday.) stepped down is disturbing. Signs of the Times.

Truth in Media
In a startling and refreshing moment of honesty, the New York Times is changing its name to The Double Standard amidst the heavy criticism of recent hire Sarah Jeong. They have attacked racism regularly, but now admit that being a racist against those whom they wish to target is perfectly suitable. The name change reflects the principle.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Don't Be a Peter

In Matthew's Gospel we read the famous story of Jesus walking on water (Matt 14:22-32). The 5,000 had been fed and Jesus sent His disciples across the Sea of Galilee while He went to pray. A storm hit, so He decided to walk out to them. In the Mark account we learn "He intended to pass by them" (Mark 6:48), but they saw Him and thought He was a ghost. He told them, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid" (Matt 14:27). Peter spoke up ... good ol' crazy Peter. He wanted proof. His version of proof? "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water" (Matt 14:28). Because obviously if it was some sort of malevolent ghost it would never want to hurt Peter, right? So Jesus told him to come out and Peter ... got out of the boat "and walked on the water" (Matt 14:29). That's right; two people in history have actually walked on water.

So, why is Peter forgotten? Why don't we think about that? Well, Peter, as it turned out, failed miserably. He was walking on the water. He was walking to see Jesus. And then, "seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink" (Matt 14:30). What happened, Peter? Peter got his eyes of the solution and looked at the problem. Peter let the storm around him become his focus rather than Christ.

We all face storms. There are political storms and economic storms. There are crimes and deaths and losses of loved ones. There are pains and sicknesses and some of the worst things we can imagine and worse. They are not fake; they are real. And while we each may face storms of different intensities, none of us escape the storms. It is part of our existence, part of our fallen world, part of this current reality.

What do we do? Typically, we "pull a Peter." We look at the storm. We question God. "Why did You let this happen?" We get distraught and afraid and angry because of the storm. We rarely, it seems, look at the solution. It is not often that we look to Jesus and walk on water.

So frequent and prevalent are these storms that we seem to spend a lot of time looking at them. They have a variety of names with a variety of effects. There are school shootings and abortions, cancers and SIDS, crime and punishment, lost jobs, broken families, divorces, sins ... all sorts of storms. And we muddle about down here trying to figure out how to calm the storms.

In his colossal failure, Peter did the one right thing he had left to do. "He cried out, 'Lord, save me!'" (Matt 14:30) The only right thing he had left to do was, as it turns out, the one right thing he should have been doing all along -- looking to Jesus. When are we going to do that? When are we going to move our concentration from the problem and look to Jesus? Jesus said to Peter, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt 14:31) When are we going to quit doubting and count on the Solution rather than ache over the problem? As individuals and as part of our various groups, there are truly lots of storms. When are we going to stop obsessing over the storms and trust Christ?

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The Problem of Cultural Crisis

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that things change. Of course they do. And, of course, for most of history the older generation has been saying, "In my day ..." and talking about how things have changed, usually not for the better. On one hand this is to be expected. I mean, entropy is a basic law of thermodynamics. All things, if left alone, will decay. Okay, that's thermodynamics, but if you take a look around you, it often appears to be the case in our society and our culture. Not always, but often.

So we have this problem of cultural decay and we call it might want to call it a "crisis." Unfortunately, I don't think that term works here. A crisis is typically a turning point, a peak, a time of intense difficulty. What we're looking at, on the other hand, is a ramp of trouble rather than a point.

So we, especially Christians, want to do something about this "crisis," this decay of our modern society. We want to fix it. We want to repair it. We want to redirect it, reform it, make it better. But our problem is we're looking at it now, as in a "crisis," rather than what it is -- an ongoing, long term condition. We tend to think, for instance, that Clinton or Obama or Trump has caused a current problem when, as it turns out, the problem in view has more likely been a long time coming. So we think we can fix it by eliminating the politician we dislike when the truth is the problem is much larger. We think that "the gays" have caused many of our problems du jour. They have caused issues, but it would be a mistake to think they've done it all on their own. They had help. A large part of it was heterosexuals and even Christians. We stretched boundaries on marriage, sexual morality, contraception, definitions, and so on and now we're wondering how we end up with this new pair of pants that don't fit. "It's those homosexuals!" we might be tended to reply, but fixing them won't fix the problems we piled up that let them do what they did. If we could, for instance, push back Obergefell v Hodges (the ruling that forced America to redefine marriage), we'd still be stuck with a twisted view of marriage and a broken cistern of sexual morality. The Left didn't succeed at pushing legal murder of children in the womb in Roe v Wade through a solid structure of moral absolutes; they did it because our morality was already weakened.

The problem, then, of our current cultural moral crisis is not the current cultural moral crisis. The problem is a long-term sin problem that Christians have remained quiet about -- "Go along to get along" -- or have lost direction over since "Make America Moral Again" is not our charge. We don't generally make "Make disciples" our neighborhood mission. Do we make it our mission anywhere? We are not largely in the business of taking the gospel into all of our own worlds because, "Hey, it's America and aren't we all Christians?" (I have actually been told that.) When we can't be bothered to bring Christ to our own homes, families, and neighbors, we must not be surprised when He isn't there to redirect their hearts. Or, putting it in Christ's terms, if they don't love Him, why would we expect them to obey Him (John 14:15)?

As it turns out our current cultural crisis not merely current. It is, in fact, the product of Adam and Eve's sin. The remedy is not better politicians or laws. It is new hearts. The problem I'm highlighting here, then, is two-fold. First, don't get fooled into thinking that our current cultural moral crisis is what you see. It has been here all along and it is only getting worse. In fact, we've been inoculated to some degree, not seeing how bad it actually was "back in my day." Second, we believers have the solution at hand. Are we actually offering it? Or are we just complaining about the current moral climate? "I've got all this food at hand and I'm outraged that there are so many starving people around me" doesn't play very well, does it? John wrote, "If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (1 John 3:17) I would think the same would be true for those with spiritual goods who ignore the need around them.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

The Exception

English is a hard language. Seriously hard. Perhaps some of the Asian languages are more difficult, but English is near the top of hard languages. One of our standard rules in English is "There is an exception to every rule." And no one minds the obvious apparent contradiction. We are really good at exceptions to rules. "Lines are our friends" is intended to be an obvious lie.

Jesus said, "What God has joined together let no man separate" (Matt 19:5-6) with such force that His disciples responded, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry" (Matt 19:10). Sounds like an absolute declaration that divorce is always wrong. So we are delighted to find what is commonly referred to as "the exception clause" (Matt 19:9) and are pleased to look for them elsewhere, too (1 Cor 7:10-15). Whew! That was close.

In fact, we don't really need biblical support for exercising exceptions to God's rules, do we? At least, certainly not for ourselves. We have no problems doing it whenever we can. Take, for instance, this admittedly difficult statement from Christ.
If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt 6:14-15)
That is pretty clear and straightforward, but you know we will find reasons to avoid it. "You don't know what they did to me." "You have no idea of the trauma they caused." In fact, almost all of us would admit to an exception here if we heard the one I recently heard: "I will never forgive the Nazis for killing my entire family." Oh, yeah, that's a good one. Clearly an exception if we ever heard one. Except it doesn't appear that Jesus offered such an exception. And it is abundantly clear that He didn't exercise such an exception in His own case (Luke 23:34).

We are really good at finding exceptions for us to void God's commands, at least in our own lives. "But God, what they did was unforgivable." So refusing to forgive is justified. "But God, I love him." So fornication is okay. "But God, we are a committed same-sex couple." So redefining marriage is fine. It seems as if we thoroughly and completely dismantle any command we choose on our own whim and think that we have a righteous exception here.

Jesus said something different. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15). He went on to say, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10). So Jesus says that love for Him produces a desire to obey, not a desire to find exceptions. (We tend to think, "How close can I get to that line?". Don't want to obey too much, right?) And how did He keep His Father's commandments? Perfectly. John understood this. He wrote, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).

Oh yeah? Well, that's what Scripture says. So you decide. Is it better to obey because we love Him so? Or maybe you'd rather please yourself and skip the obedience when it's not convenient ... on good grounds, of course.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Is God Good?

"She was a Christian, but she was distraught about her daughter's death all those years ago. 'Why would God take my child?' she asked me. I was able to give her comfort. 'It wasn't God's will,' I assured her. 'God never wills that kind of thing.' She felt much better."

It was an actual discussion I heard. It was an actual position that was taken. And, I'm fairly certain, it was not a minority view. The speaker was a Christian, and I'm sure that many agree. God doesn't will that kind of thing.

I am, however, completely baffled by "She felt much better." Years ago a youth pastor I know was asked to officiate at a funeral of some friends. He wrote out his planned remarks and asked me to review them. He said much the same thing. I told him, "You can go with that if you want, but, please, please, don't use that line of thinking at my funeral or any funeral I might be at. Such a notion would be devastating to me." He was somewhat surprised. "Because," I told him, "you're telling me that God lost, that poor God with all His power and sovereignty and omniscience and all just couldn't manage to stop it. He couldn't have healed him or her or He couldn't have prevented the accident or hostile action or whatever. He was not God in this situation. And that provides you with comfort, perhaps, but it terrifies me. When else will He fail? Given the current death rates (100%) and add in the current tragedy rates (a whole lot), I'd have to guess that God fails a whole lot. I don't find comfort in that."

I read recently of a Christian who lost a daughter. He told God, "You had no right to take my daughter from me!" He said he didn't want to hear another well-meaning Christian quote Romans 8:28 to him. This was not comforting. I understand. This is in the heat of the moment, in the intense emotional response of the day. He also said it passed and he recovered and he learned to love the promise that God was always producing good, even in the hard times, but I think we miss that ... badly. Even without the emotional trauma of a lost loved one, we think, "Unpleasant things like that are not God's will." Because that exonerates God, I suppose. But God says something different. God says (this is an actual quote from God) "I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things" (Isa 45:6-7). Paul claims that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11). That doesn't leave room for an exception. The psalmist says, "Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases" (Psa 115:3). That would, quite obviously, include all of what He pleases. God says, "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'" (Isa 46:9-10). "All my purpose" would mean all of His purpose, wouldn't it? Solomon wrote on the subject, "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand" (Prov 19:21) and "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps" (Prov 16:9) Sounds like God actually intervenes in human choices. On and on it goes. Scripture us stuffed with these kinds of claims.

The problem, I think, is not that the Bible is unclear. The problem, I'm relatively sure, is not that it's not God's will. The problem, I am certain, is us. The problem is that we don't get it. We think that God's view of "good" is our own ... and it's not. Not always. We think that "good" includes "pleasant" and excludes "unpleasant," includes "comfortable" and excludes "pain." We want good and we're pretty sure that what we want is good and God, being a good God, would certaintly, then, want what we think is good. God has declared otherwise. The problem is not that God doesn't want good for us; the problem is we don't always know what that is.

The question, then, is simple. It is not, "Is God good?" He is absolutely good (Psa 136:1). He is the definition of good. The question is "Will I trust Him?" Will you agree with God that what He does is good, or if He does it and you don't like it will you need to find an excuse for Him? Will you require that God conform to your definitions and values, or are you willing to work toward changing your definitions and values to match His? Like He commands (Rom 12:2)?

Monday, August 06, 2018

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?

It is rumored that the likes of Martin Luther or Charles Wesley said it first: "Why should the devil have all the good music?" Turns out we can't find any references to it. Popular notion, but, from all we can find, no ... they didn't. The first documented quote is from Larry Norman. Norman was one of the earliest "Jesus Rockers," called by some "the Father of Christian Rock." And he did write a song entitled, "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?"

Of course, the quote, especially when attributed to the likes of Luther or Wesley, has been the basis for many to shift from traditional to contemporary music for Christians. Now, even that is misleading, because there has always been "contemporary" music in the church. When Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts wrote their now classic hymns, they were new -- contemporary. But you get the idea. Why did the church make the jump from "traditional" to the music closely associated with teenage angst, sex, and drugs? "Why should the devil have all the good music?"

I think the question is wrong-headed. First, consider the logic. The question assumes that the devil has music. "This" music belongs to the devil and "that" music does not. Problem. Because we're mostly sure that the devil doesn't own anything except that which is in direct contradiction to God's commands and nature, and it's hard to associate musical style with that. Second, consider the obvious secondary question. If the devil does have music, why do you, a believer, consider it "good"? Is it possible that there are some ... skewed values here?

I'm not approaching the question of "the devil's music" here. I'm asking the question of how we determine what is good. In the question, "Why should the devil have all the good music?", the standard is abundantly clear. It is not, "Whose music is it?" It is "What do I like?" The "good music" in the question is "The music I like" and, therefore, by definition, "good." And that's no way to determine "good." It is the way most people, including Christians, do it. And that's the problem.

"Good" is always relative. The question is always "Relative to what?" If your standard of "good" is yourself, it is going to be a very questionable definition of "good." And it will bleed over into a lot of areas.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

I Can Only Imagine

My wife and I saw the recent movie, I Can Only Imagine. It's the story behind the hit song of the same name. It tells why the songwriter, Bart Millard, wrote it. I'm not planning to review the movie. Not the point. It was lacking in a gospel message, but I assume that the number they listed at the end to call if you're interested would suffice. I did find it interesting that Lionsgate Films did what they did.

Lionsgate Films has produced movies like The Hunger Games series about a nation run by tyranny, The Day After Tomorrow about a sudden ice age brought on by global climate change, a couple of Divergent films where kids are the real brains in a post-apocalyptic world, and Dogma, a story about two fallen angels who plan to return to heaven and undo all creation. It's odd, then, that, while they make no disclaimers on those kinds of movies, they felt it necessary to distance themselves from I Can Only Imagine. "Doesn't represent us or our views." You know.

But this isn't about the movie. This is about the song.

What I really like about the song is kind of highlighted in the anomaly of the movie's explanation of the song. The song, apparently, was written because the Millard's father died. Jesus really changed his father and he "could only imagine" what heaven would be like. You would think, then, that Millard was thinking about what it would be like to be with his father again in heaven ... as so many, even Christians, do. But the song does not go there. It is not about seeing loved ones again. It is about the awe of being with Jesus, in His presence, eternally.
Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you Jesus?
Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence?
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing Hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine
I appreciate that. Deeply. I know that someday I will be in heaven with loved ones who have gone before and who come after. But someone once asked, "If you knew that heaven would be a place without any sadness, any pain, with only joy ... but Jesus would not be there, would you want to go?" To me the question is nonsense. I don't believe we will find a place of eternal joy without Jesus. A contradiction in terms. As much as I love my loved ones, it is truly Jesus I long to see face to face. And I, like Millard, can only imagine how glorious that will be.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

News Weakly - 8/4/18

Simplified Tax Returns
This ought to simplify our tax forms. We've been told that healthcare, especially universal healthcare, is a human right. Thus, Bernie Sanders favors "Medicare for all." The report says this will cost $32.6 trillion over 10 years. "That's trillion with a 'T'."

So, the new tax form -- Line 1: "How much did you make this last year?" Line 2: "Send it in." See? Easy.

(In case anyone is wondering, the number is not a surprise. We currently spending about $3.3 trillion (with a "t") on our health care. The difference is we'd all be paying in to the entire system where, in a free market system, if you take care of your health you might pay less than someone who does not. I'm just saying, don't chalk this up to "biased calculations" like some have. $3.3 trillion over 10 years is pretty close to the price tag the study figured.)

How Homosexuals Reproduce
They don't do it naturally, quite obviously, so how do homosexuals "propagate the species"? They do it by recruiting children, as in this "Drag Storytime" at the city's central library. "No! We don't have any hidden agenda! We're not recruiting kids! Why would you even think such a thing?" Because they are.

If you teach that unnatural is normal, expect the unnatural to be viewed as normal. The truth is that kids will be indoctrinated. The question is "Who is indoctrinating your kids?" Do you even know?

Enforcing Sexism
"Man" can mean "an adult male" or even "of the male persuasion." It has often been used to refer to the human race in general, where "man" would mean "all people." As it turns out, this version is the typical use in the source language -- Old English. Thus, a "salesman" would refer to any human whose job is to sell. "Congressman" would refer to any human being in government that can lie. Okay, that was cynical, but you get the idea.

Sexism is prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of sex. When Barack Obama was elected president, many heralded the event as diminished racism. I said, "Racism is diminished when you don't notice the skin color of the person in office." In the same way, sexism is not diminished by constantly calling attention to it. It is diminished by no longer noticing. That's why this story of a seven-year-old girl who complained about the word "linemen" on a road sign is so tragic. She said the sign was "wrong and unfair." Her mother was "wrong and unfair" when she failed to point out that "men" in the term "linemen" means "any human that works the line" and to urge her daughter to drop the conflict between men and women rather than inflame it. But, hey, the mother wasn't the only one. She was "so proud of my 7 yo (sic)," she said in her Facebook post, and the chief executive of the New Zealand Transport Agency commended her and the battle goes on to weed out all perceived "sexism" by constantly and continually calling attention to it.

This is Why We Have Bibles
I know, I know, the "papal infallibility" thing only applies to certain statements and this isn't one of them. However, when the leader of the Roman Catholic Church makes a declaration in direct contradiction to the Scriptures he claims to stand on, it isn't "infallibility." It isn't even rationality. Pope Francis has issued a new policy that calls the death penalty "inadmissible" because it attacks the inherent dignity of all humans.
The church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.
Contrast that with God's opinion. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image" (Gen 9:6). God says the the death penalty is necessary in cases of homicide because of the "inviolability and dignity of the person," using the Roman Catholic Church's words. Capital punishment is based on the value God has placed on human beings as His image bearers. The pope would like to correct God on that. I'm sure God is delighted, having been wrong all those millennia. Keep your eye out for further corrections from the pope regarding God's mistaken, outdated ideas.

Offensive Stereotypes
You may not be familiar with The Simpsons, a cartoon for children young and old about a family (oddly enough, named the Simpsons). It is a cartoon, a caricature of life in the mid-sized fictional town of Springfield. Since its debut in December, 1989, it has racked up a wide range of fans with a long list of characters that are all ... not right. There is Homer who is the stupidest dad around and Ned Flanders who is the stereotypical right-wing whacko Christian and Bart, Homer's son, a perpetually 10-year-old troublemaker. So it should come as no surprise that one of its characters is deemed an offensive stereotype. Apu is an Indian immigrant who owns the Kwik-E-Mart (of course) and is voiced by a white actor, Hank Azaria. It is, they complain, a racist stereotype and ought to be eliminated.

I am fascinated that this one is an "offensive stereotype" while the stereotyping of Homer as a stupid white male or Bart as a troublemaking white boy or Ned Flanders as an extremely gullible Christian are not offensive stereotypes. In fact, I don't think there's a single character on the show that is not a stereotype at which they are poking fun. But Apu, you see, is a problem. Poking fun at the rest is all in good fun. Especially males, whites, and Christians. That isn't offensive. That's real, right?

Friday, August 03, 2018

Devolution

They asked "How will it affect you if we redefine marriage to include same-sex couples?" (No, they didn't, actually. While the courts were quite clear that it was a redefinition, that side of the lobby never admitted to it. Still ...) The suggestion is that we could go on being "married" our way and they could be "married" their way and it wouldn't matter. We said it would. It has.

Under Traditional Marriage, the idea is that two become one. As one it was a working together and a union and a lifelong commitment and connection. Divorce was rare because it made no sense in this version. Under Traditional Marriage, one of the primary functions was the bearing and raising of children. Under Traditional Marriage, there were always clear and obvious male and female roles, distinct and complimentary. These facts were true whether you used the secular traditional definition or the biblical definition.

They assured us that wouldn't have to change for those who didn't embrace the "new definition" (which, to the best of my knowledge, has never actually been produced). In Modern Marriage you have two individuals. If they can work together, good. If they give each other what they want or feel they need, fine. If not, end it. End it now. Terminate it with extreme prejudice -- so extreme that all around will think twice about trying marriage themselves. In Modern Marriage it is not about offspring. Purely optional, like tinted glass on your new car. No, it's about self-realization, individual autonomy, self-expression. In a "good marriage" these days you might hear, "She completes me" because she is contributing to her partner something that her partner wants. In Modern Marriage, we're no longer looking at distinct roles for husband and wife. (In Modern Marriage, we may not even have "husband" and "wife", even when the terms are used.) We have gender neutrality, where gender is believed to be irrelevant. No "fathers" or "mothers" are necessary. Just "us". If I happen to be a "father figure" or a "mother figure" is not connected to my actual gender. It's about me. Modern Marriage simply feeds the modern standard of good conduct -- narcissism.

It is irrefutable that marriage has changed ... by definition. It is also a fact that it has impacted all of modern society, traditionalists and "new marriage" advocates alike.

Procreation was always the name of the game in marriage. In the past 70 years we've tossed that aside. Decrease procreation and you eliminate the need for a father figure, patriarchy, the social power of a traditional father, male economic provision, male responsibility. Decrease procreation by normalizing contraception, sterilization, and abortion and maximizing "sex for fun" -- "if it feels good, do it." Decreasing procreation and, subsequently fathers, the union of two, and the male and female roles, and you end up in an "equality" where everyone is equal ... and no one is significant. It makes self-determination the ultimate good. It argues for "diversity" while removing the possibility (since we're all equal -- the same). Decrease the role and responsibility of fathers, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out the devastating and long term harm to society in general and children in particular.

Side effects are rampant and critical. Marriage is by definition "us" but modern marriage is now "me and you." This decreases mutual care and the effort put into Modern Marriage. By changing the focus from "us" as a couple and as a family, it diminishes fathers in their roles and authority. By edging out the role of father, it decreases respect for authority, starting first with human authority such as governments, teachers, or law enforcement and ending with (and likely ultimately aimed at) God. Sidelining fathers and maximizing self (with a particular focus on women), of course, will cause less men to have an interest in taking responsibility -- responsibility for their sexual desires, offspring, families, etc. Why would they? No one is making any demands anymore. There is a decline of the worth of marriage, the couple, the family, self-sacrifice, and society and an elevation of the importance of self -- self-realization, self-expression, self-vision, self-esteem, etc.

Truthfully, this was predicted in Scripture (2 Tim 3:1-5). Honestly, I'm not sure any society that continues by this kind of moral mandate -- "me first" -- can survive. Already we see the elimination of procreation as a primary function of marriage has produced a fertility rate that is below the replacement rate, the rate required for the continuation of the species. If "harm" is the basis for moral good, this Modern Marriage qualifies as evil. If God is the basis for moral good, this "new morality" -- essential narcissism -- is evil. The remedy, however, isn't better laws and nicer people. The remedy is repentance and faith. We who believe can call for it, but God who reigns is the only one who can bring it about. We should be working on that.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Tolerance vs Equality

Today's loudest voices demand "tolerance" and "equality." While they don't suggest these are the same thing (and they aren't), they do seem to be linked. The problem appears to be that the loudest voices in today's society don't seem to understand what these words mean.

If you hear "tolerance" today, you would think that it meant "agreement" or, perhaps, more, "approval." The word means nothing of the sort. Consider a similar concept. "Brave" does not mean fearless. "Brave" means the ability to act in the face of fear. If there is nothing to fear, there is no need (or even ability) for bravery. Tolerance is much the same. Just as "brave" begins with "something to fear," "tolerance" begins with disagreement. If we are all in agreement, there is no need or even ability for tolerance. You do not tolerate what you approve. Tolerance is the ability or willingness to put up with (allow the existence of, accept or endure) something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with. If you love a good pizza, you never have to tolerate a good pizza. That's not the right word.

California was once the most tolerant of states (in some regards). The people voted (with an overwhelming majority) to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, but the state allowed for "civil unions." Civil unions in California were not marriages, but held most of the same benefits. Under the California civil union rules, a pair of men could have such a civil union and enjoy all of the same kinds of benefits that a married couple would enjoy. That was tolerance. But the LGBTQx folk didn't want tolerance. They wanted equality.

Equality can mean "of the same value" or "the same". That's a problem. In the California example, civil unions were "of the same value" as marriage -- both had the same benefits and rights. That's not what they meant. If we mean "equality" in the sense that "men and women are of the same value", it has no bearing on "marriage." The longstanding, historical, traditional definition of marriage doesn't affect equality. If we mean "equality" in the sense of "the same," now we have a problem. First, men and women are not the same. This doesn't take a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon, and a religious bigot to figure out. It takes eyes. It is augmented by a little bit of biology. (No matter what you think about "gender dysphoria," for instance, you will never see a biological female produce sperm or a biological male get pregnant. That's completely contrary to nature.) But, hey, who cares, right? Because we're all "equal" -- the same. And we're not. And the claim that we are is nothing less than insanity.

So all we end up with here is conflict and confusion. "We won't tolerate intolerance" is actually a claim they will make. This is perfectly acceptable ... as long as you don't use the actual definition of tolerance, predicated on different, not the same, on disagreement, not agreement. Going on, then, to push "tolerance" into "embrace and celebrate" eliminates tolerance. Then shoving "equal" into "same" simply makes tolerance irrelevant and differences impossible and sanity is absent. We are different. We are of equal value ("equal"), but we are not all the same ("equal"). Tolerance of ideas and concepts other than our own is important. None of this is achieved by intolerance and exclusivity done in the name of tolerance, inclusivity, and an equality that doesn't include any of those things.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Early Evangelism

Evangelism (not the same as Evangelicalism) is the word we use to refer to sharing the gospel -- the good news about Christ -- with others. Let me take you to one of the very first evangelists to give you some insights on evangelism.

The story comes from the first chapter of John's Gospel. Jesus was going to Galilee where He "found Philip and said to him, 'Follow Me'" (John 1:43). Philip's first recorded act was to go find Nathanael and tell him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote -- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (John 1:45). Nathanael wasn't impressed, replying with his famous, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). Philip's zealous, well-considered apologetic was simply, "Come and see" (John 1:46). Well the rest of the story was that Nathanael did go with him to see Jesus, who convinced him that He was the Son of God (John 1:47-51).
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and *said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael *said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel." (John 1:47-49)
The last part is about Nathanael's conversion, not about evangelism. What can we learn here about evangelism?

The first thing we see is that when Philip was called by Christ, his behavior changed. He wasn't able to keep it to himself. He wasn't "cool with that." He knew a guy who would want to know this Jesus of Nazareth. He had a friend who needed to hear about the Messiah. So, he went and told him what he knew. Nothing more. Nothing less. Philip didn't pull out the Scriptures and give the biblical reasons he determined that this was in fact the Messiah. He didn't offer evidence, reasoning, logic. He simply said, "We've found Him." Philip told Nathanael what he needed to hear without slick presentation or careful apologetics. Not that these are bad; he just didn't do it.

Second, Philip encountered resistance. "You are confused, Philip. Nothing good can come out of Nazareth." Philip didn't let it bother him. Nor did he try to explain it away. Philip simply said, "Come and see."

Third, notice that strategy -- "Come and see." It wasn't, "You should go check it out." Philip practiced what I think of as "walk alongside evangelism." "Here," he said, "let's go together and look at this for ourselves." Philip wasn't a mere messenger delivering a message; he was a passenger on the same ride. He was talking to a friend offering something the friend would need and willing to go along with him to get it.

Last, but certainly most importantly, all of this started with Christ. Christ called Philip and Philip responded with heart and with action. Christ saw Nathanael before Nathanael responded to Philip's summons. Christ told Nathanael things about himself that only the Son of God could know. From beginning to end it was Christ. We often think it's us; it isn't. People without Christ are spiritually dead (Eph 2:1-7), hostile to God (Rom 8:7), blind (2 Cor 4:4), and intent only on evil (Gen 8:21; Rom 3:10-12). It takes the effective call of Christ to change that. He will use us in that process as He used Philip, but in the end it is Christ, start to finish.

Sometimes we make evangelism too big of a problem. Philip had no training, no finely honed arguments, no cherry-picked Scriptures. He responded to Christ's call, acted immediately to tell his friend what his friend needed to hear, offered to walk alongside in this journey, and took him to Christ. From beginning to end the course and outcome was determined by Jesus. That's our job. Cooperate and join Him in His work. Care enough for people to tell them what they need to hear and walk with them in the journey. Expect Christ to do any conversion. A nice lesson from an early evangelist.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Plain Sense

Here's the claim: "Absolute faith in the plain sense of Scripture turns a Christian into a fool and the Bible into a graven idol."

Here's the problem. Since "the plain sense" of any writing is currently undefined in our world, the claim makes no sense. The modern approach is that words mean what you want them to mean. The current idea of "the plain sense" of any writing is that it is what you think it is. Apply your meaning to the words as you would please and that is what you will call "the plain sense" and we will go with that. "Do you disagree with it? Clearly you disagree with the plain sense. What's wrong with you? Can't read very well, or just stupid? Or worse?"

There is, in the realm of judicial interpretation, including constitutional interpretation and other legal interpretation, a rule called "the plain meaning rule" or "the literal rule." Now, I find it odd that such a rule would exist, but, looking around me, I can see that it is clearly necessary. So the rule states that statutes are to be interpreted using the ordinary meaning of the language of the statute. I mean ... duh! And, yet, this is unacceptable when we read our Bibles.

It's called "the golden rule of biblical interpretation": "When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense lest it result in nonsense." It is, of course, no longer "golden." As our initial claimant stated, such a notion makes Christians fools. But the question still hangs in the air. What does "the plain sense" actually mean? Does it mean solely and always "woodenly literal"? Well, in the "golden rule" here that would absolutely be false. It clearly says, "When the plain sense makes good sense ...", requiring, "Sometimes the plain sense does not make sense." Obvious examples spring to mind. Jesus was not claiming to be a literal door (John 10:7,9) and the entire city did not show up to hear Him speak (Mark 1:33).

So "plain sense" doesn't mean "woodenly literal." It is, I believe, almost exclusively the domain of fools that would interpret all Scripture solely in a woodenly literal sense. When God breathed His Word to the authors that wrote it, He had something to get across. The authors had something they wanted to say. The entire process was intended to convey a meaning -- a plain sense. We have to take into account genre and historic context, culture and language, text and context, but in the end the aim is to find the plain sense -- the meaning of what they meant to say.

I believe we should read the Bible in its plain sense. We should take it at face value. And immediately you are required to ask, "What does that mean?" Because words have no faces, so taking it "at face value" has to mean something other than the actual words mean. In the same way, when I say we should read the Bible "in its plain sense," I don't mean "in a coldly literal way." I mean "as it was intended to be understood." And that may take some effort. Was Jesus a literal door? No, of course not. We can figure out He was offering a metaphor. Does God forget sin (Jer 31:34)? Only if He actually is not Omniscient (1 John 3:20; Isa 46:9-10; Psa 139:16). In other words, if you are to get the plain sense of Scripture, you will need to read it, read the context, read the book, and read the rest of Scripture. The best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture, and getting to that will be a lifetime project. What it is not is interpreting Scripture in light of headlines or modern philosophy or current morality or the like. That doesn't let God speak. That doesn't take God seriously. That is man-made religion.

If the Bible truly is God-breathed and if "plain sense" is understood as "the sense in which the author intended it to be taken", absolute faith in the plain sense of Scripture will conform a Christian to God's way of thinking; to fail to do so makes God to be a liar in His Word. The Bible, then is not an idol; it is trust in God that gives Scripture its worth. The question is not "Should you take God at His Word, with all the work that such a notion would entail?" The question is "Will you?" Because to fail to trust God's plain meaning turns so-called Christians into fools and strips God from His Word.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Double-Minded

James wrote, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). Double-minded. It seems to be the standard rather than the exception.

I was looking at a display of works by a local artist. On a plaque was a quote from the artist. "I am certain that there is no absolute truth," the artist assured us. She went on to say that she wanted her work to cause people to see the beauty all around us without any allusion to truth. That is what I call "double-minded." She is absolutely certain of the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth. She intends people to see the absolute truth that there is beauty in everything. In fact, she's confident in the absolute truths that the paint would remain on the canvas, that gravity would continue to function, that her work and words had meaning, and that the sun would come up in the morning. She predicated her life and work on absolute truths while denying and predicating her life and work on the absence of such truths.

Remember the story of Elijah? He first appears on the Bible scene when he walks in to King Ahab and declares, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word." (1 Kings 17:1) Boom! And he's gone. He went into hiding while God took care of him (and others around him). Finally, after three years, God told him to show himself again to Ahab and He would send rain (1 Kings 18:1). Enter one of the best showdowns in history -- God versus Baal, God's lone prophet versus 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-40). With the people of Israel on hand, Elijah called out, "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). "How long will you be double-minded?" And the contest ensued. God, of course, won. But Elijah's question there was the same one I'm asking. How is "double-minded" good?

We all do it. I suppose we are all guilty at times. But some aim for it more than others. When someone declares, "We are inclusive, so we will exclude those who don't agree," they appear not to see the double-minded position. When someone says, "You people are so judgmental; we hate you hateful, judgmental people," they seem not to notice the double standard they employ. When they complain, "The Bible isn't a book of rules" in one sentence and then complain, "You're not following the rules in the Bible" in the next, how are we to respond? When they assure us, "We love God and His Word" while demanding that we don't declare what God and His Word declare, how are we to handle it?

"I hate the double-minded," the psalmist wrote, "but I love your law" (Psa 119:113). God's Word is not double-minded. "Submit yourselves therefore to God," James wrote. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you" (James 4:7-10). Being double-minded is a spiritual problem of pride, standing on truth while denying it. In James's example in the first chapter of his epistle, the double-minded man in view there was the one who prays for wisdom without believing God can or will give it (James 1:5-8). "Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord" (James 1:7).

And so it goes. We live in a world filled with two standards, populated by double-minded people, with values and beliefs predicated on equal and opposing truth claims and value systems. It's not surprising, really, but I would hope that you would make an effort to not do it yourself.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Taking God's Name in Vain

"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain." (Exo 20:7)
We all know that one, right? And we all know what it means. Don't use God's name as a swear word. And while a lot of people even in the Christian world these days are no longer concerned about it, most Christians agree that the Decalogue, the 10 Commandments, are still in effect for Christians. So we should be careful about how we use the word "God", shouldn't we?

I suspect that we've missed the point.

First, biblically God has a name and it isn't "God." "God" is His title. His name is the Tetragrammaton -- YHWH in English. Latin made it "Jehovah" and more modern English speakers use "Yahweh", but biblically that is His name. (Note: It is the name in the command which most translations indicate with "LORD" (all caps).) Factor in that the Father is called YHWH, but God the Son is called Jesus, and we have some thinking to do about using God's name in vain. Finally, in Scripture, the term "name" doesn't necessarily refer to the noun assigned to designate the person. It generally refers to the character of the person to whom it refers. When we "pray in Jesus's name", for instance, it doesn't mean "Use the term, Jesus." It means "Ask God for what you want on the basis of the person and character of His Son." And, look, we use it that way ourselves sometimes. If we say, "They ruined his good name," we aren't suggesting "They changed his name from Bob -- a perfectly good name -- to Blob, a cruel thing to name him." No we mean that the name in question is the character and reputation of the person in question.

What we rarely think about is what it means to "use God's name in vain." We quibble over which name it is without thinking what it means to use it in vain. I would think that would be a serious consideration. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Dictionary, the Hebrew word here means "emptiness, vanity, falsehood." It could mean to be false or it could mean to be worthless or it could mean to be empty. Vain. All three, I suppose, are aspects of the same concept. The warning, then, about "God's name" is a warning not about simply using it improperly in a sentence, but emptying it of value. When we empty God's character or reputation of value, we "take the name of the LORD your God in vain."

If that's true, then obviously any allusion to God (whether name or title, Father, Son, or Holy Spirit) that is void of value or truth would fall in this category. Using a reference to YHWH as "God" to express personal shock or surprise would seem to surely be to take His void the value of His name, His reputation, His character. But we do that in so many ways. I mean, there is the obvious use of "God" without any reference to God. But how often are we praying without actually thinking of God, invoking His name but distracted in our prayers? Have you found yourself in church singing praises to God while you're thinking about the work day tomorrow or whether or not they'll have donuts between services or some other non-God thing? I know that I have, to my shame, actually prayed out loud at times, thinking more about whether or not I am coherent and understood by those listening than by the One to whom I'm praying -- using God's name in vain. Oh, I know one. How about when you're singing in a worship service and thinking, "I hope I sound good to the people in the row in front of me." We do it. We do it too often. We do it to our own shame. We invoke God's name without actually thinking about God's character or worth. That's taking His name in vain. We refer to His character ignoring what He says about His character. Like when we defend God when unpleasant things happen but God says, "I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these" (Isa 45:6-7). God says, "I create calamity" and we say, "No, no He doesn't." We void His character.

I know. It's not on purpose. We all stray in many ways. I know, we're not aware of it. Now we are. Now we can get to work on that. You're welcome.