Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Religious Freedom on the Wane

Look up any of the recent stories about Indiana's new law that have a Comments section and see what people are saying. Or read about Apple CEO Tim Cook's views on the subject. Seattle and San Francisco, to name a couple of cities, along with various businesses are boycotting Indiana. Check out the White House opposition (even though it appears that the president voted for just such a bill back in 1998). Check out the outrage and vitriol in angry opposition to religious freedom in this country and the rising voices in favor of limiting or eliminating Christianity in America. Yes, that's what you'll find in a lot of these places. The New Atheists are not merely opposed personally to Christianity, but would like to eliminate it from your options as well. In America.

I don't offer this as an invitation to write your congressman and demand your rights. I don't suggest you start a rally to protect religious freedom in America. I am simply telling you "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you." (1 John 3:13) No, more than that. "Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13) I think of the disciples beaten for their faith who went home "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name." (Acts 5:41)

"Oh, don't be silly," they will tell me. "It's not persecution." And, given the levels of persecution around the world that Christians endure, I'd agree. But Jesus classified "when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account" (Matt 5:11) as persecution, so I'm going with His version. And He said, "Blessed are you." (Matt 5:10-12).

So, I'm just pointing it out. It's coming. Without divine intervention (some sort of national revival), it's not likely to be avoided. And God's Word classifies it as a blessing for those of us who believe. So don't get up on your soap box and demand your constitutional rights. There are more and louder voices willing to eliminate them, at least in your case. And don't get dejected. The Bible is full declarations that it's a blessing for believers. So let's avoid being persecuted for any unrighteousness and go about our task of loving God and loving our neighbors, even if there is a cost involved (Luke 14:27-28). Let's pray. Let's see what God will do and rejoice when we are counted worthy to suffer dishonor for His name's sake.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Way

Before Christians were called Christians, they were called followers of "the Way" (Acts 9:2). (They were first called Christians in Antioch in Acts 11:26.)

Followers of the Way. Interesting concept. The truth is both "Christian" and "followers of the Way" end up being the same thing. Why? Well, as every believer knows, it was Jesus who said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) So if Christ is the Way, we are both Christians and followers of the Way. It sounds ... harmless enough. As it turns out, it really seemed to upset people back then (In that Acts 9 verse, the followers of the Way were being arrested and imprisoned.) and still does today. Why?

I can think of two obvious reasons that the whole thing upsets people. The first and foremost is the concept of exclusivity. In our society the atmosphere is one of inclusion. "We will include anyone and everything ... except, of course, Christians. They're not welcome." So when Christianity (most religions, in fact, but no one seems to notice) comes along and says, "There is only one Way," we're in trouble. "Just one? Sounds arrogant." And I would admit that at first blush it does. But remember, it's not our claim. It's Christ's. We didn't conjure up this "secret club" that excludes others and claims the sole truth. Christ did. You may squirm a bit when you say, "Jesus is the only way" and people are outraged with you, but if you are a follower of Christ, you have no other option.

And, look, the fact is that it's not merely required as a follower of Christ; it's reasonable. What the rest of the world would like to tell you is "All roads lead to Rome." But if Jesus was right and He is the Way--that "No man comes to the Father but through Me"--then it only follows that other roads lead elsewhere. If it is not true that Jesus is the only Way, then Christianity itself is false and is not only not the only way, it is no way. Logic dictates it. So while we can sympathize with the apparent arrogance of the claim of exclusivity, if we are to remain true to Christ and logic, we have to stand by it.

The other difficulty for people is Jesus's other claim on the subject.
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt 7:13-14)
I don't know about you, but to me that's a tough statement. Look at what our Savior is saying in terms of numbers. First, we get that He is the narrow gate. But in terms of numbers, "many" miss it and "few" find it. These are not happy terms. In a poll at the turn of the century something like 76% of Americans classified themselves as Christians. Now, as it turned out, only 15% of them went to church and only 5% said that it made any difference in their lives. That should serve as a warning flag, a red light, an alert klaxon. Jesus's terminology does not support the 76%, but does tend toward the 5%. And, frankly, that's disturbing. According to Jesus our churches are largely occupied by tares, not wheat (Matt 13:18-30). They bear a lot of resemblance to each other, but one is a weed to be stripped out and burned at the end. So not only are the unbelievers outside the doors; they're inside.

Well, now, that just won't do. You can't be questioning people's salvation. It's not done. They claim to be Christians and so they are. Don't assume otherwise. Except that when we examine fruit (Jesus's idea, not mine (Matt 7:16-20)) and we ask questions (the primary point of 1 John) and we look at things like whether people love the brethren (John 13:35), it gets really dicey. And if we are sitting in the midst of people who call themselves Christians but are, indeed, tares among wheat destined for the fires of Hell, is it kind and loving to say nothing?

Well, of course, this will never do. It is this whole exclusivity thing and its accompanying claim of not only being exclusive but narrow that upsets people. And yet, we are followers of Christ, the one who claimed to be the exclusive Way, the one who said the gate was narrow and the way was hard and few would find it. So, look, we have a very simple choice here. Will we ease up and ignore Christ, or will we grit our teeth and follow Him? You ought to decide now. It will make a difference in where you go from there.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Rewards

Many Christians I know are very magnanimous. "I don't want to serve God for the rewards He promises. I just want to serve Him out of gratitude." Sounds very ... holy. One problem. It violates God's Word.
Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Heb 11:6)
Interesting, isn't it? In order to please God, we must 1) believe that He exists and 2) believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. You'd prefer not to seek rewards? He'd prefer you would.

The Bible speaks often of rewards. There is the "crown of righteousness" (2 Tim 4:8), the "crown of life" (James 1:12), and the "crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4). Jesus promises to give the crown of life to those who are faithful unto death (Rev 2:10) and warns against losing crowns (Rev 3:11). We read of receiving the inheritance as a reward (Col 3:23-24), of Christ repaying each person for what he does (Matt 16:27), of being commended by God (1 Cor 4:5). Jesus speaks of standing in the judgment and hearing "Well done, good and faithful servant." (Matt 25:21). Jesus said something fascinating on the subject. Not only do prophets and righteous people get rewards, but Jesus said this: "The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward." (Matt 10:41) This just keeps going and going. I know that it sounds holy to suggest that we should serve God without an eye on rewards, but God appears to disagree.

So, two important thoughts on this. First, I think if we keep in mind the source of our doing those things that earn rewards, it will make it easier to understand. In Philippians, Paul tells the believers there to work out their salvation with fear and trembling and then explains how that is accomplished. "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:12-13) Got that? Yes, you work. But in order to accomplish anything, you need two things: 1) the will to do it and 2) the power to do it. Not complicated. And Paul here says that's God's work in you. So, here's how it goes. God commands, the Spirit enters you and gives you both the will and the power to do, so you do, and God rewards you for doing what He worked out in you. It's not, you see, some supreme "good for me" thing. "I did it." Not at all. It's all Him.

Second, consider Jesus's command.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt 6:19-21)
Got that? You are supposed to lay up treasures in heaven. If you lay them up on earth (like we all seem to want to do), your heart will be here, but if you lay them up in heaven, your heart will be there, and that's the place it must be. So these rewards are those treasures that bind your heart to heaven. But consider this. In Revelation there is the scene in heaven where the 24 elders "cast their crowns before the throne" (Rev 4:10). Considering that the rewards we have earned were earned by the power of God at work in us, that makes perfect sense. So what is it that we are really doing? We're setting up a bank account in heaven so that when we get there we'll have something to give to the King. You know the old joke. The rich guy figured out how to take gold with him to heaven, but when he got there, Peter said, "So, what's with all the paving material?" That won't be us! We're not showing up with earthly treasures to give to God. We're showing up with heavenly treasures, rewards earned by God's work in us.

I don't know about you, but to me it is a real joy to think that my Father is going to give me the means to give Him a nice Father's Day gift. So I'm going to believe that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him and work for the rewards He claims I should want and set my heart on a treasure elsewhere so that I'll have something to give Him when I get to see Him face to face. That just seems like a good idea.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Who decides rights?

In 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In it there is a montage of the expected and the unexpected. Everyone expects "equal in dignity", "right to life", or even "the right to a nationality". Not everyone is on board with "Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country" or " the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family". And there is a surprising one--"Everyone has duties to the community"--listed among the "rights". I'm not offering this as an argument for or against any of these. My question is much more basic. My question is this: Who decides what rights we have?

There are a variety of components here. First, we need to distinguish between a right and a privilege. A right is something owed you. It is a just claim. A privilege is a grant given under certain conditions to certain persons or groups. It is an advantage given that was not owed. I'm not asking about privileges; I'm asking about rights. Second, there are different kinds of rights. There are natural rights and there are legal rights. Obviously legal rights are entitlements bestowed by the law. Your right to vote, for instance, isn't something you're born with. It is bestowed by law. (For instance, a person born in a country that is not a democracy or republic will not have a legal right to vote.) Natural rights, then, are rights bestowed by "nature", be it human nature, natural logic, or by divine edict. The right not to be murdered is stated by God in Genesis when He says, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man." (Gen 9:6) That is, "made in the image of God" gives all image bearers (humans) a right to life. The law doesn't confer that right. This line of rights is recognized in the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." The Bill of Rights was not conferring rights, but defending them.

But now we run into problems. As growing numbers of loud people argue there is no Creator or, if there is, He isn't of particular concern, the supposed source of "unalienable rights" is eliminated. Conversely, more and more people are seizing more and more rights. Women now claim "Reproductive Rights" which men don't have. Young people claim a right to a college education--free. There is some sort of "right" that allows the homosexual community to redefine marriage and call it "marriage equity", a right tacked onto a whole series of rights afforded to a group that wasn't before. Use the synonym, "entitlement", and you'll certainly come up with a host of new "rights" that no one thought of before. And I want to know, given the absence of a Creator, by what authority rights, whether old or new, are determined?

It seems as if they're simply determined based, perhaps loosely, on that whole "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" thing. So I have a right to whatever makes me happy. But, look, a new Tesla would make me happy and no one seems to be buying my claim that it's my right, so that can't be it. And haven't we already determined that any lame "Creator"-based logic is wrong? So don't we have to nullify at least that portion of the Declaration of Independence and its ramifications? I mean, we removed the "right to life" back in 1973 with Roe v Wade, so that's not settled, is it? It seems to me that rights are shifting and accumulating and no one is batting an eye. It seems to me that they're accumulating out of thin air. Who's manning the "rights" machine?

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Zombie Apocalypse

When God warned Adam, "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen 2:17), we can easily get a sense of ... well, error. I mean, God said they would die when they ate it. They ate it. They didn't die. Genesis goes on to say that Adam lived 930 years (Gen 5:5). I mean, seriously, in what sense is that "In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die"? Looks like the serpent was right (Gen 3:4).

I think what we have here is a failure to communicate. Okay, kind of. You see, we have the small definition of "live" which means basically "continue to breathe" and God ... does not.

Jesus said, "This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3) I cannot tell you how many of us miss that. He is not saying "Eternal life is found in God." He is saying that this life is defined as knowing God. John understood this and repeated it in his first epistle.
This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)
Life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life. Life in God's terms is defined as knowing God.

Jesus told the false prophets who claimed to do work for Him, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness." (Matt 7:23) Paul said that the secret to a right relationship with God was "you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God." (Gal 4:9) So knowing God requires being known (in biblical terms, an intimate acquaintance with) by God and God's consequent willingness to be known, and life by God's definition requires knowing God. In sin, then, all die (Rom 5:12).

God tells us, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways." (Isa 55:8) We see that over and over again. His "love" and our version (closer to "lust" or "warm feelings") are not the same. His "right" and our version (closer to "whatever I want") are not the same thing. And here we have another definition problem. His "life" and our version are not the same thing. Adam cut off his relationship with God ... and died. On the spot. It took over 900 years for his body to catch up. And so it continues. "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked." (Eph 2:1-2) It's a human condition thanks to sin. Our sin. So "alive" is much more than "breathing". And "dead" is much worse than "not breathing". And we live in a strangely zombie world of the living dead where Jesus is the only cure. Why it is that so many of those who have been made alive keep trying to imitate the dead is a mystery to me ... including my propensity to do the same.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

God Is Opposed

In Philippians we read, "Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." (Phil 2:2) "Of the same mind." What does that mean? It is a common biblical theme. Jesus said, "... I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me." (John 17:23) In Ephesians we see the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3) and the unity of the faith (Eph 4:13). So, what is this?

Some would argue that it is thinking alike. I would think that would be patent nonsense. No two people think alike. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 that we all have varying roles. No, it must be something else. And, as it turns out, the Bible offers a different idea.

First, there is the Spirit. That is common to Christians. The faith is common to Christians. Paul says, "Put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity." (Col 3:14) Things we should all share--the Spirit, the faith, love. There is another.

Right after Paul implores the Philippians to be of the same mind, he tells them this:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus ... (Phil 2:3-5)
If you don't know what follows, you should look it up. The attitude that we are supposed to have is the humility of Christ. And, oh, what humility! God in essence to God in flesh to God on the cross. "This attitude," Paul is saying, "will unite you."

And it's not just Paul. The concept of humility in Scripture is vast. Jesus said, "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:11) Solomon wrote, "The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life." (Prov 22:4) Peter said, "Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you." (1 Peter 5:5-6) As it turns out, this is just a small sampling.

We all know of the sin of pride. "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom." (Prov 11:2) It is often a very clear sense of being better (Rom 12:3). Sometimes pride masquerades as a wolf in sheep's clothing in a flock of humility. "Oh," this version says, "I don't have any special talents, any special gifts. I'm not really that important." You know, in direct contradiction to God. That is some pride! Most of the time it's the straightforward "looking out for #1", the "I will have what I want", or, in the biblical words, "I will be like the Most High." (Isa 14:14)

James says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6) So here we have two extremes. On one hand we are to have the attitude of humility that Christ (you know, the Christ of Christianity) had. On the other hand, God is opposed to the proud. So we can identify with Christ, or we can take God as our opponent. It's amazing to me how often we Christians aim to do both.

Let's face it. Humility is not in vogue today. "Self-empowerment", "self-esteem", "self-actualization", these kinds of things are cool. Certainly not "with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves." That is right out. But that's what we're called to be. It's not "doormat" Christians. It is the view that others are more important. It doesn't diminish self, but elevates others. We understand that our flesh is inadequate and our only strength is from God. We view others as important and in need of our love. It isn't a lack of strength, then, but sufficient power from God to place others above ourselves.

What would that look like? What would it look like in our interactions with others? With our conversations? With our work habits? With our family relationships? What would it look like to others? What would it look like when we are wronged for Christ's sake and respond with humility rather than a demand for our rights? What kind of unity would we enjoy if we were that kind of humble? I'll tell you one thing. I'd much rather learn that form of humility that Christ characterized than take God on as my opponent.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Counterintuitive

Counterintuitive is that which is opposite to intuitive. (Thanks, Stan. We think we've got this without your help.) No, stick with me for a moment. The word is defined as that which is contrary to common-sense expectation, but it includes the caveat that it is still true. You know, like "If you're sore from too much exercise, do some exercise." Sounds wrong, but it works out that stretching sore muscles helps relieve the pain. That kind of thing.

I wrote about how, biblically, the way to a self-fulfilling marriage was self-sacrifice. That is counterintuitive. As it turns out, a lot of Christianity is counterintuitive.

Last is First
Jesus said it, so it's true. "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35) Any standard person would say, "No! That makes no sense." But it's true. If you want to be great in God's kingdom, learn to be the servant of all. And, of course, when you think it through, it might even become reasonable. Others aren't quite so easy.

Joy in Suffering
James says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds." (James 1:2) Now that's just not right! Or is it? Peter said, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13) Paul said "We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance." (Rom 5:3) The author of Hebrews wrote, "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Heb 12:11) It appears as if we have a running theme--running counter to what we would expect. The Bible teaches that in the midst of tribulation (rather than apart from) "we are more than conquerors" (Rom 8:35-39), and suffering is actually to our benefit.

Satisfaction through Submission
I wrote about how self-sacrifice in marriage produces greater satisfaction in life. It works itself out elsewhere, too. In a married relationship, mutual submission (Eph 5:21) includes the wife submitting to her husband "as to the Lord" (Eph 5:25) and the husband loving his wife as he "loves himself" (Eph 5:28-30) as a profound illustration of Christ's relationship to the Church (Eph 5:32). Peter says that a submissive wife may win an unbelieving husband "without a word" (1 Peter 3:1-6) and husband who submits his own preferences to his wife's needs will not have his prayers hindered (1 Peter 3:7). In the life of the Christian, James says, "'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Submit yourselves therefore to God." (James 4:6-7) That is, submit to God or He will be opposed to you. Bow to Him and He gives grace. And, of course, grace is what we want.

Righteous Sinners
One of the most astounding counterintuitive truths in all of Christianity is that we are both sinners and righteous. We know we're sinners (1 John 1:8), and that we do not, in this life, stop sinning (1 John 2:1-2), and yet we are declared righteous. Unlike some groups, the Bible teaches that we are imputed righteousness rather than being personally righteous. "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor 5:21) Our sin was imputed to Him, and in return we were declared righteous. We are "found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own" (Phil 3:9). Righteousness is credited to us by faith and not by works (Rom 4:3-4). So while we are declared righteous, the Christian life is the pursuit of that "to which we have already attained" (Phil 3:16).

Victory through Death
The ultimate counterintuitive truth is the concept of victory through death. In dying and rising again, Jesus declared victory over death (1 Cor 15). We, too, are called to die (Rom 6:3). In that death, we are set free from sin (Rom 6:7). Paul said, "I die daily" (1 Cor 15:31). We are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1) and to "put to death the deeds of the flesh" (Rom 8:13). This, according to Scripture, is victorious Christian living.

There is more, of course, but you start to get the idea. The truth is that if Christianity was a man-made religion, you wouldn't expect much of these counterintuitive things. On the other hand, if it is God's idea, you should be surprised if it aligned with human thinking. These counterintuitives, then, serve as a fingerprint of God and an encouragement to "come out from them and be separate" (2 Cor 6:17).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Satisfied?

James tells us, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." (James 1:2-3) "Various trials." How's that for an understatement? There is Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused of rape by his boss's wife, imprisoned and forgotten. "Various trials." Job lost his wealth, his family, his health. "Various trials." Then there was Paul.
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Cor 11:24-27)
What's the secret? Joseph told his brothers (who sold him), "God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance." (Gen 45:7) Job said, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5-6) Paul said, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ." (Phil 3:8)

There's a running theme here. Jeremiah states it in his lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. "The LORD is my portion. Therefore I have hope in Him." (Lam 3:24) It's not that events are pleasant. It's not that things are looking up. It's not that he found something comfortable somewhere amidst the trials. It's not that these men of God found satisfaction in God's plan for their lives. It's that knowing Christ was of supreme value, that the Lord is my portion.

Are you satisfied? Are you satisfied with God's plan for my life, or satisfied with God? When you arrive at "God is good enough for me", you've arrived. Anything else is short. Of course, anything else is also foolish when God is not enough for His people.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Fulfilling Marriage

What do you look for in a spouse? Is he right for me? Is she good looking? Is he successful? Is she funny? Will he support me? Will she support me? Men and women may have some differences in what they're looking for, and individuals may vary even more widely, but there is, I think, at the bottom a common core. "Will this person help me toward self-fulfillment?"

What do you want in a marriage? It probably looks fairly similar. Does he love me like he should? Does she give me what I need? Again, this stuff may vary, so perhaps the best place to look for an answer is in what kinds of things terminate marriages. At the top of the list are things like communication, finances, infidelity, unfulfilled expectations, lack of commitment, sexual incompatibility, and boredom. You know, "I don't have the things I want" or "she doesn't give me the respect and attention I need" or "he's not what I hoped he would be for me" or "she's not giving me the sex I need." Round that all up. "I'm not getting what I want or need." Hey, wait! That's self-fulfillment again, isn't it?

Contrast that with what the Bible says. "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord." (Eph 5:22) "Husbands, love your wives as you love yourselves." (Eph 5:28) "Wives, be submissive to your own husbands." (1 Peter 3:1) "Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way ... and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life." (1 Peter 3:7) Strange thing. None of that sounds like "Seek your own self-fulfillment." Not a word. Sounds a lot more like self-sacrifice.

As it turns out, marriages predicated on and operated for self-fulfillment will almost certainly end up in frustration if not worse. On the other hand, the successful marriage is the marriage constructed on self-sacrifice. This successful marriage, ironically, will almost always produce self-fulfillment. It doesn't look that way from the outside, but that's the way it turns out.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why, God?

If you've read the accounts from the Old Testament about how God chose Abraham and his offspring to be a special people to Himself, then you're also aware of how badly they messed that up. There they were, slaves in Egypt, and God shows up with Moses as His messenger, performs miraculous deeds, and they leave rich for the Promised Land. Are they grateful? No. Just days after the stunning success at the Red Sea, they're complaining to Moses about bringing them out in the desert to die. But God takes care of them anyway. And then they get to Mount Sinai and God actually visits them in visible and audible presence. Are they grateful? No. They beg Moses to deal with God while they go off and make a golden calf and have an orgy. God threatens to destroy them, but Moses intercedes and they live. Are they grateful? No. So they spend the next 40 years dying in the desert. But you know this. How many times did God intervene on behalf of Israel? How many times did they spurn His grace? The Old Testament is full of this cycle. To be sure, I would suspect that anyone who is honest would have to admit that our own lives are full of this cycle.

Did you ever wonder why? Sure, sometimes we might wonder why God chose Israel. God answers that question, in fact. In Deuteronomy He tells them, "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers." (Deut 7:7-8) It wasn't because Israel was so grand. It was because God chose to love them. Like it says in Romans--in order that God's purpose might continue (Rom 9:11).

But why? We would understand if, on the day that Adam and Eve ate the fruit, God would have snuffed them out--end of story. We would understand if God had left Israel, the grumblers, to die in Egypt or to die in the desert or to die in Babylon and Assyria. They had that coming. But He didn't. Why?

I came across the passage in which God graciously answers the question. In Ezekiel 20 the elders are asking Ezekiel to talk to God on their behalf. God replies. He lays out this history of God promising, Israel messing up totally, and God still being gracious to Israel ... over, and over and over again. In each instance, God uses this phrase: "I acted for the sake of My name" (Ezek 20:9,14,22).

It is my suspicion ... no, my conviction that this is the answer. Why did Adam and Eve survive the Garden of Eden? "For the sake of My name." Why did Noah and his family survive the Flood? "For the sake of My name." Why was Abraham chosen? "For the sake of My name." Why did God withhold judgment from Israel ... time and time again? "For the sake of My name." Why were the men that Jesus chose for His own chosen? "For the sake of My name." Why did God send His Son to die for our sin? "For the sake of My name." Why am I still living and breathing rather than being justly judged on the spot for my sin? "For the sake of My name."

We're kind of predictable. We like to think it's about us. We like to think that we're worth it somehow. God is sure lucky to have us. Aren't we just adorable? I mean, isn't that what the Bible says? God loves us so much? I think we're missing the point. I think, in every case, the real reason any good happens is "for the sake of My name." It would be wise, I think, to recognize that and be grateful.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

In the News

The pop icons of the day are rising up. "#BoycottDolceGabbana". Elton John, Martina Navratilova, Courtney Love, Ricky Martin, and more are outraged. Courtney love promises to burn all her Dolce & Gabbana stuff. Why? Domenico Dolce of fashion designers Dolce and Gabbana in an interview said the unthinkable. "Every child should have a mother." I mean, how could he?! "You are born and you have a father and a mother. Or at least it should be like this, that's why I am not convinced by chemical children, synthetic babies, wombs for rent." Oh, the humanity!

Oh, wait ... what exactly is the problem here? Is it offensive to suggest that children should have a father and a mother? Is it wrong to argue that two, married (remember my definition of "married" is the longstanding, traditional one), loving parents is the best for children? I mean, that's offensive today? (And isn't it ironic that it comes from Dolce, who was romantically involved with Gabbana? Is it possible that people with same-sex attractions who don't believe in "gay marriage" are the problem?)

I know, I know, "They are outraged by the insult to IVF children!" Which, of course, didn't happen. Dolce suggested that it was not best for children, not that the children were any "less" in any way. But the approach of twisting statements deemed unacceptable to that segment of society will always be the pattern and, I fear, the serviceable strategy.

In other news, Lieutenant Commander Wes Modder, a chaplain in the Navy, is facing charges of intolerance and disrespect because he privately counseled people on issues pertaining to faith, marriage, and sexuality. Yes, privately. The military limits what can be said publicly by chaplains, but Lt Cmdr Modder did it privately. The audacity! The man, an Assemblies of God chaplain, opted to express honestly and privately his views that sex should be limited to marriage and that marriage was between a man and a woman. For being unable to "function in the diverse and pluralistic environment", he faces possible dismissal I guess the military only wants chaplains without distinctions. Like the liberal, mainstream churches that have no distinctions, no distinctives, very little impact, and precious little truth. And once again, it would appear that the only way to "function in the diverse and pluralistic environment" is to eliminate the diverse and the pluralistic.

Then, in light of this little piece where a pastor argues that "By the time a Church legitimizes 'same sex marriage', it has already ceased to be a Church", what are we to make of this little bit of news, where the Presbyterian Church (USA) formally legitimizes "same sex marriage"? Well, when pastors can be classified as "in good standing" with the PCUSA while denying the Resurrection or even actual existence of Christ and advocating the Jesus Seminar and atheism, it's pretty difficult to argue that this is still a Church in any Christian sort of way.

On the world scene, Russia has launched military maneuvers in the Arctic with 38,000 servicemen, 50+ surface ships and submarines, and 110 aircraft. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said "The new challenges and military threats require further increase of the armed forces' capabilities." If that doesn't give you pause, you're probably not paying attention.

You know, after a very short exposure to this kind of stuff, I begin to wonder if the pre-television, news-at-the-tip-of-your-fingers world didn't have its advantages.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Eyes on the Goal

When I learned to drive, my instructor taught me, "When you're driving down a street with cars parked on the side, don't keep your eyes on the cars. You will tend to steer in the direction you look." I suspect this advice is applicable for much more than driving. Like ... oh, I don't know ... all of life?

There is, of course, something specific I have in mind. What is the goal ... of life? Are you keeping your eyes on that goal, or are you getting distracted? Are you looking at parked cars?

It is so easy for us--genuine disciples of Christ--to lose focus and get distracted. There is just so much to look at. There is the obvious problem of rampant sin in the world, much of it calling your name. But we generally know better than to focus there. At least, we should. So we often suffer from other things. Are you going to have a comfortable retirement? Do you have a happy marriage? Are you making a sufficient income? Do you have the things you need or want? Are you healthy? Do people like you? Are you respected? How do you look? Clothes, hair, appearance okay? Are you rich or famous? Would you like to be? Do you have enough power? Self-empowerment is really big these days. How is your self-esteem? Are you handling your problems okay? Need help? And so it goes.

You know, it's not as if all of these things are bad. It's just that we're not asking ourselves if we're paying attention to the right things. I'm pretty sure if you thought about it and were honest you'd have to admit, like me, that you're spending a huge amount of time focusing on the temporal, not the eternal. We're most concerned about the here and now with precious little thought about eternity. Today and your next 50 some odd years are critical, but preparing for forever isn't very important.

Paul wrote, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 11:22) Hebrews says we are to be "fixing our eyes on Jesus" (Heb 12:2). In light of eternity, are we spending too much time concerning ourselves over temporal things rather than important things? Are we looking at parked cars in danger of drifting into them, or are we keeping our eyes on the goal? Are we aiming for "the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14)?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Do You Believe in Magic

Yes, it's a line from the group, The Lovin' Spoonful, from a song about love. But magic, as it turns out, is a problem. You see, in a world ruled by science to the exclusion of the supernatural, magic (along with a lot of other things) is bunk. Do you believe in magic? Well, then, we can settle the question about you being a fool, can't we? So some of the key "proofs" that Christianity is false rotate around this premise. If you believe in prayer, if you believe in the Resurrection, if you believe in Jesus's miracles, if you believe in anything outside of scientific fact, you're deluded.

Not so fast. I've been told that I believe that a magician can heal blindness by rubbing mud in the blind man's eyes. Thus, I'm a fool. Do you see a problem with the claim? I do. Even without mud in my eyes. The Bible does not teach that Jesus magically healed the blind man with mud. The Bible teaches that Jesus healed the blind man. And lots of other people.

Our materialism-based world today starts with the denial of the supernatural. The media wants you to believe that everyone with any intelligence knows that God is a myth. Thus, if you believe in the supernatural, well, we know your lack of intelligence. But it just isn't so. Like they say in the courtroom, "Your Honor, I object! Assuming facts not in evidence."

There is no evidence that God does not exist. The claim that He does not exist is not supported by evidence or logic. Indeed, those who make the claim typically argue that they don't have to prove it. So the claim that the supernatural does not exist as the premise that the supernatural cannot occur is assuming facts not in evidence.

Still, am I arguing that magic is real? The dictionary defines "magic" as (first) "illusions", but goes on to include "the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature." The notion is that it is "the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces." And I would suggest that the Bible does not claim that this exists. A primary component of "magic" under the dictionary definition is "human control". It requires the use of supernatural forces. And I would argue that only the supernatural can use supernatural forces.

The Bible is clear that supernatural events have occurred throughout history. Sometimes they were done by God's hand. Sometimes they were done by God's power through an intermediary. But at no time were they done under "human control". It was not mud that healed the blind man. It was the power of God in the flesh. It was not Moses that divided the Red Sea. It was the power of God with Moses as a focal point, a show, a visual aid (Exo 14:1-31). Not human-directed "magic"; supernatural powers.

And, you see, this itself isn't nonsense. If there is a God--if there is any supernatural being(s)--then there would be supernatural powers. It isn't a question. It isn't a "faith". It's sheer logic. If supernatural, then supernatural powers. If you can see your way clear to believe that there is a God, then it is a given that supernatural powers exist as well.

They would like to ridicule believers on the basis of "magic". "You believe in magic? What a fool!" Technically, no, we don't. But we do believe in the supernatural, and, as such, would assume the existence of supernatural powers. Why not? "Do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil." (Rom 14:16) New Atheism today is not simply opposed to theism. It is opposed to allowing you to believe. What are you going to do? (Hint: 1 Peter 3:15.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Marriage Test

I recently had an exchange with a self-identified "agnostic, humanist, and naturalist" that started with the topic of Biblical inerrancy. Of course, that wasn't his aim. His aim was to remove the Bible entirely. And I get that. Those who deny the existence of God, who are, by nature, "hostile toward God" (Rom 8:7), are certainly going to deny His Word. No surprise there. What is a surprise is the frequency and volume of those who classify themselves as "Christians" who deny that the Bible is God's Word. Oh, sure, they may affirm it's God's Word in speech, but when they deny that God breathed and maintained it without error, well, then, you only have a couple possible conclusions. If your Bible is fallible, either God is not God, or God is subject to His creatures who changed it, or the Bible is not God's Word. Look, it's a simple equation. God = infallible. If the Word we have is not infallible, it is not God's Word. Simple math.

But you can see the simple math from my agnostic antagonist, right? Here, it's easy. If the Bible is God's Word, then God exists, Christ is who He says He is, the entire faith is true, and the "agnostic, humanist, naturalist" is in trouble. And so is the Bible-denying "Christian".

Over at (the deteriorating) Christianity Today, Gavin Peacock, pastor of Calvary Grace Church, Calgary, Canada, wrote an article on inerrancy and, of all things, marriage. As it turns out (and as I've maintained along with those of the rest who hold this position), the Church affirmed inerrancy for the first 16 centuries. They debated at times "Is this one in?" or the like, but the question was never whether or not God's Word could be ... wrong.

I don't know. Maybe when I put it like that you see it. You see, if "inerrant" means "without error", it's opposite is "erroneous"--"wrong". And yet, self-professed Christians today argue that God was or is, well, wrong.

Gavin Peacock talks about the Church's history on the question, about how this current "No it isn't" position was the product of the skeptics of the 17th and 18th centuries, about how inerrancy was affirmed, denied, and reaffirmed. He (as I) points to the position as a parallel to Satan's "Did God say?" in the garden. But what I found most interesting was his connection between Scripture and marriage. He considers marriage a "litmus test" for biblical inerrancy--for a proper understanding and respect for Scripture.

There is no doubt that Scripture starts with the marriage of Adam and Eve (for the purpose of mutual support and companionship, and for procreation) (Gen 1:28; Gen 2:18,24), that it ends with marriage (Rev 19:6-9), and that marriage is a central depiction of Christ's relationship with His own (Eph 5:28-33). Marriage in the Bible is not incidental; it is central. So Peacock concludes, "Earthly marriage is crucial but not ultimate, God is, and marriage points to the person of Christ and how he relates to us. Affirming 'same sex marriage' destroys that picture. But it is the fruit of denying the inerrancy of God's Word." He goes on to say, "In other words, by the time a Church legitimizes 'same sex marriage', it has already ceased to be a Church."

I have no reason to disagree with the pastor from Canada. I think that marriage is not a peripheral, but a key issue, and in a much broader sense than just society, interpersonal relationships, or families. It is a key structure assigned by God for our benefit and for illustration, and people mess with that at their own peril. And I am convinced that the only way you can arrive at the conclusion that the thing going on between same-sex people is "marriage" is to first eliminate God's Word. But, then, when you do that, you're at the same position as my friend, the agnostic. And marriage is a valid litmus test.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What are you going to do?

I've got mine, as they say. I mean, I have my faith. I have my reasons for my faith. I have my Bible that I can trust. I have my God, a Sovereign, loving, Omnipotent Father. I have my Savior, Jesus Christ, who has rescued me from my Cosmic Treason against the Most High. I've got mine.

But I have to wonder. What about those who don't? What about, for instance, the atheist who denies the existence of a being we call God? Or what about the religious type not of Christian faith? Am I any better off than they?

Laying aside the reasons and evidence I have for what I believe (and, therefore, that anyone else could have for believing), where does the atheist stand? He (or she) isn't particularly concerned about the wrath of ... what do they like to call it--"the flying spaghetti monster". So my salvation means nothing to them. But I have a reason for a moral code because I have a Moral Lawgiver who has the right to dictate good and bad to His creation (and the perfect ability to tell which is which). They don't. What do they do for a basis for a moral code? Under that structure (or lack of structure), killing or not killing can be equally moral. They might complain about how it's wrong for my God to fail to heal everyone (for instance), but they have no basis for such a complaint because by their measure all creatures, whether ant or aunt, are essentially accidents of nature, random events without any underlying value or dignity, so why would it matter? What makes giving to the poor better than taking from them? What makes taking care of a sick child better than terminating the weak ones (for the survival of the fittest)? So they dodge the salvation question but eliminate any basis for the moral code they haven't violated because there is no God. And when a loved one dies or a friend or family member suffers, I have a Sovereign God to lean on to give me strength and hope. They have no such thing. Their loved ones die and return their biochemical bags to dust without lingering hope or ultimate purpose. Where's the comfort? But, of course, such things as comfort from loss or purpose in life are meaningless, right? Because without the Divine, the only comfort is fleeting and insubstantial and the only purpose is artificial and temporal. No ultimate meaning, no ultimate purpose, no ultimate hope. That defines the parameters of an atheist worldview.

Still, the religious are better off, aren't they? At least they have meaning and value and purpose. They have some god or gods that provide a basis for morality. They expect, as I do, to have a hereafter and hope for a good one. Much better off than the atheist, aren't they? You would think so, but I can't imagine why. Because, as everyone knows, no one is perfect. "To err is human," we say. So every religious effort on the planet (with the exception of Christianity) is aimed at "good enough". It is a "good enough" without a real definition, I fear. There is no "This many good deeds done and that many bad deeds avoided." So there appears to be a standard from which they assume "good enough", but the standard is never really known. The word in the Bible for "sin" is defined most literally as "miss the mark", but in the world's religions, that mark of "good enough" is an unknown and you can't know if you hit it. So, for the religious but not Christian, there is no remedy for the problem of what we all know is a problem--the violation of God's commands. Earlier Judaism had a sacrificial system for obtaining forgiveness, but no longer. Most other systems are basically "be good and be sorry". Be as good as you can and be sorry for when you're not. And hope that works.

Of course, this group has another difficulty. Assuming "good enough" exists, what does that say about the justice of their deity? You see, the ultimate basis for an objective moral system--a morality that applies to all humans--is the fundamental justice of the Lawgiver. If we can be sure there will be ultimate justice, we can be sure that there is a valid moral system. If not, it's not so. But if this deity of other religions capriciously excuses transgressions, that isn't justice. And if that isn't justice, then the basis for the moral system is in jeopardy. In the final analysis, just how divine is an unjust deity?

As I said, I've got mine. I have a Sovereign, Just, Omnipotent, loving Father, a Savior in Christ, and even the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower me. I have a reliable faith based on a reliable document breathed by God to His messengers as an authority in matters of faith and practice. In all of this I have salvation, hope, confidence, comfort, love, faith. For those without Christ, what are you going to do? It doesn't look very good for you.

Monday, March 16, 2015

I Believe in Marriage

I believe in marriage. I believe it is valuable and useful and profitable to those who engage in it. I believe that everyone should have the right to marry. I believe that race should not be a reason to forbid marriage. I believe marriage should be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth (1 Tim 4:3). Look, I like marriage and think that it's a good idea. So if a man who has sexual attraction to a man wants to marry, I say he should. And if a woman who is sexually attracted to women wishes to marry, I say she should. Because I believe in marriage.

Of course, when you define marriage as I do, as it has always been defined--the union of a male and a female for a lifelong commitment for the purposes of mutual support, encouragement, and even offspring--you may understand why I'm so bold in my assertion regarding marriage. So if a man who identifies himself as "gay" wishes to marry a woman, I'm all for it. If a woman who calls herself a "lesbian" wishes to marry a man, I'm in favor of it. Hey, maybe they'd like to marry each other? Well, maybe.

I'm in favor of marriage. I'm not in favor of the destruction of marriage by refuting it, deconstructing it, redefining it until it has no definition, and then asserting that lump of useless nonsense is "marriage". I don't consider that "pro-marriage" and I don't see how handing that lump out to everyone is "marriage equity". "Here. Have some mud. Now you're equal."

Nor is it "anti-gay marriage" to believe in marriage. It isn't a "prohibition" or "ban" any more than defining "beef" as "coming from a cow" is "anti-pork". It just isn't so. And no amount of pulpit-pounding from the media or the general populace will make it so. I will continue to stand for marriage. It's not mean-spirited. Nor is it complicated.

Because I believe in marriage.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Rider

I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. (Rev 19:11)
Can we be honest? Revelation is not exactly my favorite book of the Bible. I mean, it's full of imagery and allegory which we're kind of stuck trying to untangle and decipher. There are horns and horses, bowls and blood, seals and woes. It's a really big drama ... of which I'm not quite clear. So when I come across one like the above, I'm pleased. Pleased as punch. (I wonder where in the world that phrase came from?)

In Revelation 19 there are thunders and judgments. There is praise and shouts. There is the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. As nebulous as all that may or may not be, this text isn't unclear at all. This rider of the white horse is "the Word of God" (Rev 19:13), the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (Rev 19:16). So while we may not be clear about the imagery of "From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations" (Rev 19:15), one thing is perfectly clear. He is called Faithful and True.

As it turns out, I'm banking on it. I'm placing all my hopes, all my comfort, all my anticipations on the claim that Christ is, indeed, faithful and is, indeed, true. You see, I need both. If He is true but not faithful, then He can promise but change His mind and I'm out of luck. If He is faithful but not true, He can promise but be wrong, and I'm out of luck.

This text, then, doesn't merely say that He is faithful and true. This text that He is defined by those characteristics. Those are who He is. Sure, there is more, but of all that Christ is, these two--Faithful and True--are two defining attributes for my King of Kings and Lord of Lords. So even if we've forgotten exactly the significance of a king or a lord, we still get Faithful and we still understand True. And we still benefit from knowing Christ who is called Faithful and True.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Double Standards

They tell me it's not racism if a black person denigrates a white person. Black Pride month--good. White Pride month--racist.

They tell me it's not sexism when a woman insults a man. A woman slaps a man--he probably had it coming. A man slaps a woman--domestic abuse.

They tell me it's not hate when a homosexual sends death threats to a heterosexual. A homosexual says that marriages should be "monogamish"--forward thinking. A heterosexual suggests it might be better if children were raised in a home with a married mother and father--homophobic.

They will stand should to shoulder to defend the rights of the Muslim to believe and practice his or her faith, but not the Christian.

Well, you get the trend. Seems like a lot of double standards these days.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Noah Was a Righteous Man

It's an interesting thing. In Genesis 6 we read, "Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God." (Gen 6:9) "Now, wait," someone might venture to ask, "does this mean that Noah was righteous by his own efforts? And, if so, doesn't this mean that we can be saved by works and, in fact, that Paul was wrong when he said that all sinned and fell short of the glory of God?" Reasonable questions.

It has been suggested by heretics and sincere questioners alike. Aren't there people in Scripture who were found to be righteous? Pelagius was a heretic that argued firmly in favor of Free Will and against God's election, declaring that Man's Free Will was sufficient in itself to desire and attain sufficient virtue to gain heaven. After all, Noah did it, didn't he? Didn't Job? Weren't there biblical characters who were, of themselves, righteous?

When you examine the case of Noah, perhaps it's not as simple as Pelagius thought. We read before the ninth verse, for instance, "Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD." (Gen 6:8) That is, God's grace was applied before Noah's righteousness was declared. God's grace--unearned favor--isn't given for human righteousness. Thus, God's grace precedes it.

But that's just rational thought. We find a very specific reference to Noah elsewhere that clears this whole thing up.
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Heb 11:7)
In this text we understand that Noah, by faith, "became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith." There is, to a limited extent, the possibility of human righteousness. It is the righteousness that God classifies as "filthy rags" (Isa 64:6). (And "filthy rags" is a nice way of putting it.) The only useful form of righteousness available to us is the righteousness that comes by faith.

Noah had God's grace. Noah had faith. Noah, then, was declared righteous, was "blameless in his generation". Not because he was a good man. Because of God's grace and because of faith. If you're counting on self-effort, Man's Free Will, and God's merited favor, I'd recommend you rethink that position. The Pelagian heresy has been refuted, but it isn't entirely dead. It is, in fact, one of the most popular ones around. Unfortunately for its adherents, it just doesn't work.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

To Save His Life

The Book of Ezekiel has a lot of stuff about God talking to Ezekiel. You know, messages God wants Ezekiel to take to His people. Chapter 13 has messages for false prophets. Interestingly, there is a particular section addressed to "the daughters of your people", a particular group of false prophets (Ezek 13:17-23). At one point God says through Ezekiel to these false prophets:
"Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life, therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you shall know that I am the LORD." (Eze 13:22-23)
Two errors are in view here. First, there is the disheartening of the righteous. Second, there is the encouraging of the wicked.

On the first, we're well aware of that one these days. You might hear (although it may be somewhat archaic) someone referred to as "goody two-shoes". It refers to someone who is being moral ... and insulted. It is a reference not to someone who is hypocritical. Nor is it a reference to someone who is of questionable morality--that is, someone who thinks "X" is moral but we're not sure it is. No, we're all pretty sure that the morality of this person is high; we just don't like it. It is meant to dishearten the righteous. To those of you who are harassed for trying to follow God's Word I say, "As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good." (2 Thess 3:13)

The second is quite interesting to me. Oh, sure, we understand it's not good to encourage the wicked. And most of us are aware that it's in vogue in our culture today. But that's not interesting. What's interesting is God's concern in the matter. It's not that wickedness was encouraged, but that the wicked "should not turn from his evil way to save his life." The concern is for the wicked, not against wickedness. To the wicked Jesus said, "Repent." (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3,5)

I wish I knew how to get that across better. Because that's my concern. It's not making the sexually immoral more sexually moral. It's not making the homosexual heterosexual. It's not making anyone conform to my sense of morality. It's the welfare of the wicked (where "wicked" is defined by God). It is the concern for eternity. It is the concern for the consequences of sin. It is concern, also, for the glory of God. I don't get extra points for making people behave better. But I am concerned about the well-being of others, and that well-being must first be defined by the Creator that made us. That they should turn from evil and save their lives is a good thing. Not for me; for them. For God.

But, of course, that won't be coming across any time soon. It's always there, at least for me. It's always in mind; at least my mind. But those intent on discouraging the righteous and those intent on encouraging the wicked will only hear "judgmentalism", "intolerance", and "self-righteous bigot". Even God appears to have some difficulty in getting that truth across. I guess I'm not alone in that.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Who Do You Love?

Before Jesus left the scene in Acts 1, He had a dialog with His disciples that most of us know about. You've likely heard sermons on it.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs." He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" and he said to Him, "Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep." (John 21:15-17)
Now, I'm sure most of you have heard the interesting discussion about the particular use of terms in this exchange. You know, how in the first two instances Jesus used the term for unconditional love and Peter answered with the term for brotherly love, but in the third Jesus used the term for brotherly love, as if He came down to Peter's level. Interesting, sure, but not where I'm going. I'm simply looking at the face-value question: "Do you love Me?"

Most of the sermons I've heard on the text focus on "How do you love?" You know, is it agape or philos or whatever other fancy terms you like. But the basic question Jesus asked was "Who do you love?" He asked, "Do you love Me?" Because, you see, in general--the default human condition--is self-love.

Paul assumed this. He told husbands that they "should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church." (Eph 5:28-29) No question. "Learning to love yourself" is not an issue. We all do it. Not a question. But Jesus asked Peter something different. "Do you love Me?" And that is the question, isn't it?

We all have things and people we love. Truth be told, that list starts with "Me". If you don't recognize that, you won't be able to address it. Because, as it turns out, while self-love is a given, it is not the important one. Because I am not the important one. Christ is. So, who do you love? Or, rather, who do you love first? That is the question.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Law of Non-Contradiction

The fundamental principle of rational thought is the law of non-contradiction. The concept is pretty straightforward. Simply stated, a thing cannot both be A and not-A at the same time and in the same sense.

Let's think that through briefly. Take, for instance, two statements.
1. "It is sunny outside."
2. "It's overcast outside."
If taken at the same time and in the same sense, it would be nonsense. It cannot be both. But if we take it at different times ("Yesterday it was sunny outside; today it is overcast outside."), we have no problem. If we take it in different senses ("It's sunny outside in Arizona, but overcast outside in Seattle."), we have no problem. These are not contradictions. Or a biblical example. John wrote, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) Are we looking at a contradiction here? Is it saying that Christ was both God and with God at the same time and in the same sense? No. John is saying that in one sense Christ was with God (the Father) and in another sense He was God (the essence of God). It's a standard Trinitarian view.

Proving the law of non-contradiction (LNC for short) is somewhat problematic, of course, because it is a fundamental premise. It is a starting point. Without it, there is no means of significant communication or determining truth. It is, for instance, the way we determine if someone is lying. We assume "truth" and locate contradictions to it. Besides, refuting LNC assumes the law in order to refute it ("It cannot be both true and not true in the same sense at the same time.") It isn't proved; it is a given.

So why do people argue that contradiction is perfectly acceptable? "Well," you have likely heard, "your religion may be true for you, but it is not for me." Like that makes sense? Look, if Christ said, "No man comes to the Father but by Me" (John 14:6), then no other religion can be true ... or Christianity is not true. There is no "true for you but not for me" here. Cannot be. (Cite LNC.) I know you've heard people argue, "Sure, that's what the text says, but that's not what it means." It doesn't matter if you trot out multiple Scriptures, dictionaries, commentaries, Church history, even 2000 years of Christian concurrence. It doesn't matter if you point to Jesus's promise that the Spirit would lead His disciples into the truth. This privileged class has apparently bypassed all of that and come to a clear understanding that no one else ever did. And, oh, by the way, it's not what the text says. Because, you see, they have "new insight", some special means of divining what it says different than ... well, you know ... what it says. I've even heard people argue that God could contradict Himself, as if that is possible, reasonable, or suitable.

Dear reader, rest assured, the Law of Non-Contradiction is not a mere human construct. It is the nature of truth. If a single one of you at this very moment is saying, "No, it isn't", you're employing the very law you intend to negate. And if you embrace contradiction, you leave yourself nowhere to stand. In that case, the God who does not lie (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; 2 Tim 2:13; Titus 1:2; Heb 7:21; Mal 3:6) is certainly capable of lying, His promises are not reliable, and you may find yourself standing in front of the Judge Who says, "Sorry, changed My mind ... you go to Hell" just because He wants to. Further, if this is your position, please feel free not to bother arguing the point (or, frankly, any point) with anyone else, since all arguments hinge on that law. This ought to ease a lot of the debates, right? (I don't suppose I'll be holding my breath on that one.)

Monday, March 09, 2015

Love Without Labels

Perhaps you've seen it. It has gone viral. It is a PSA, of all things, an ad by the Ad Council promoting ... well ... love. It is the Love Has No Labels campaign. The video shows x-ray-style skeletons on a screen dancing, kissing, holding hands, embracing--lots of pleasant interaction--followed by the "reveal" where the skeletons step out from behind and you get to see who they are. As they stand in front of the audience, a message displays, appropriate to the actors of the moment, extolling "Love has no ...". It could be "no race" or "no disability" or "no gender" or "no age" or "no religion" or whatever else. (I've never sat through the whole thing.)

I'm a little baffled by the campaign concept. Is there someone somewhere that disagrees? Is there a person or a group that believes that it is inappropriate to love? Does someone believe that love is limited by age, gender, disability, or whatever else you wish to list? Isn't it a given that anyone might love anyone at any time?

I don't actually believe that such a person or group exists. So what is the point? I suspect the point is ... missed. That is, we--they and I--are defining "love" in a different way. It's supposed to be "shocking", for instance, when two "skeletons" who were kissing come out from behind the screen to show that they were two women. Because two women, to some people, aren't supposed to love each other. Really? I'm pretty sure my sister loves my other sister, my mother loves my sisters, my wife loves her sisters, and on and on and on. They may embrace. They may kiss. They certainly love. What's the question?

The question is not, as it turns out, love. The question is sex. Sexual relations. And they know this. They obscure it, however, when three "skeletons" dance around--two adult-sized and one child-sized--and we're "surprised" when a child and two men come out from behind the screen. But no one is suggesting adult sexual relations with children. (Well, almost no one.) So we know it's not about sex. But if that's true, who protests love (non-sexual) between anyone?

Look, I'm heterosexual. Fine. But I love men. I know quite a few men I love. That shouldn't be shocking to anyone because there is nothing included in that love which includes sexual relations and, therefore, nothing in the least morally objectionable to anyone. I would, in fact, be concerned about people that don't love both genders, all ages, people with disabilities, people from various religions, or whatever other factors you wish to imagine. It is, after all, a command of Christ. We must do it.

I can only conclude, then, that either I'm missing the point of the ad campaign or the campaign is missing the point of what love is. And when the latter happens, all sorts of confusion follows. Like "I should be allowed to marry whomever I love." Think that through to its logical conclusion.

Postscript
In case you aren't really trying to think that through to its logical conclusion, consider. "I should be allowed to marry whomever I love" cannot be limited. When the standard is "whomever I love", then arbitrary "only one" or "only adults" or "only humans" become untenable. "Oh, you're such a scaremonger," I can hear already. Maybe. Except that it is already hitting the streets and your petty "only between two adults" or "only between humans" or even "only between adults" isn't going to hold water. To claim that it is doesn't take into account either the logic or the trends. And a slippery slope argument is not a fallacy when it is actually happening.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Incite to Right

The book of Hebrews can be somewhat difficult at times for the Gentile mind to encompass. It is, after all, written to Hebrews ... and we are not Hebrew. So there is all that stuff about sacrificial systems and such of which the Hebrew mind was well aware but eludes 21st century Americans. That's okay. We can work through it. We can get a handle on it.

Then we read stuff like this: "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." (Heb 4:11) Now that's a little bit difficult to grasp, isn't it? We are to work to enter rest? I mean, don't you cease work to enter rest?

Then, over in the 10th chapter, we read, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works." (Heb 10:24) Now how exactly are we to do that? The word there, "stir", is an interesting word. In Greek it is παροξυσμός--paroxusmos--from which we get our word "paroxysm". You know, a sudden attack of emotion or activity. We are to cause fits of love and good works. The word means to incite or dispute, to provoke or contend. It is rooted in the thought of sharpening and, figuratively, to exasperate. And we are to do it carefully and intentionally ("consider how to").

Now, you and I are Bible-believing Christians. You and I want to shape our lives by the instructions of God's Word. So you and I want to follow this command: "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works." How do we do that? How do we excite fellow believers into love and good works? How do we incite them? How do we provoke others to love and good works? How do we stimulate/sharpen/urge love and good works?

There are clues here. We do it by holding fast the confession of our hope (Heb 10:23). We do it by not neglecting to fellowship (Heb 10:25) (which, in this day and age, is alarmingly popular among self-professed Christians who "don't need to go to church to be a good Christian"). We do it by encouraging (rather then tearing down) one another (Heb 10:25). All this stuff is in the surrounding text. All are convenient ways to spur one another to love and good works. (Interesting, isn't it, when there is a sizable group of Christians who argue that "good works" are meaningless to Christianity?)

You can work through this on your own. What (in addition to the ones listed) are ways you can stir fellow Christians into love and good works? Remember, the command is to consider it. So think about it. Who will you incite to godliness? How will you do it? What will it look like? I'm not offering a comprehensive answer. I'm just encouraging you (and me) to be aware that it is a command, that we are to be doing it, and to go out and do it. Do we have time for a lengthy conversation about sports? Or politics? Or how she looked at church last week? Maybe. But you've got some stirring up to godliness to do. We should get started on that. Hey, wouldn't church be a good place to start?

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Traffic Patterns

Overheard in a conversation between a couple of classic rock aficionados:
So, let's see ... we have Highway to Hell and Stairway to Heaven. I guess that sort of gives an indication of expected traffic patterns for the two places, doesn't it?