Sunday, September 21, 2014

When You Walk through the Fire

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." (Isa 43:1-3)
This is a great passage of Scripture. Yes, it is specifically to Israel, but it is also to the redeemed. It is a comforting statement from a loving, sovereign God regarding His care for us in our tough times. In the floods and fires of life, you will not be consumed. He is with us.

It's interesting, though, what He does not promise. He does not promise to keep us from the fire or the flood. We are not promised a warm, happy, comfortable life. In fact, the word is "when", not "if". When you pass through the waters and when you walk through the fire. Or, to put it another way ... "Oh, you will."

From an experiential vantage point, we know this to be true. Everyone experiences difficulty. Everyone. To me, then, it is a great comfort to know not that God failed to stop it, but that He's in it with me. That it's not out of His control. That He will protect me even in the hardships. It's a little difficult, perhaps, to say "Fear not" and "You will go through fire and water" in the same sentence, but it should be the ultimate comfort to know He's in it with us and controlling the outcome. That's a good thing to remember when we find ourselves up to our necks in water or out of the frying pan and in the fire as we all seem to do from time to time.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What If?

Growing up, I became aware that much of our current circumstances have been determined by previous events. Consider technology. When videotape came on the market, we had two options: VHS or Beta. Beta was, essentially, a superior product. But VHS had better marketing. So we got an inferior product because of marketing, not technology. Or consider PCs. Apple and IBM had their versions out in a similar time frame, but IBM had what was called "open architecture" -- they allowed outsiders to have access to programming instructions. So IBM became the market standard and Apple is only recently recovering from that blow.

I remember an episode of the '60's TV show, Dennis the Menace, where Dennis tried to win a car for his mom by guessing the number of balls in a jar. An elderly lady won, but when she heard why Dennis wanted to win, she donated her old car to Mrs. Mitchell. It was ... get this ... an electric car. Yes, back in 1960 there were still some electric cars to be had. So, why are they new on our market? Because the gas engine was developed to have greater range and speed on newer and better roads. So ... what if the electric car was pursued instead? Market forces would have driven us to a different place, a place the industry is only now trying to achieve.

These were the kinds of things I mused about (occasionally) growing up. "What if?" You couldn't know, actually, but it was an interesting thought experiment. There was no way to compare two possible technology lines to see which would have had what affect on society this far down the road. Just a matter of interest.

This isn't always the case, however. It is possible, for instance, to ask, "What if Christianity had not had such an effect?" A lot of what we see in modern society today was built on the back of 2,000 years of Christendom. Christianity has influenced morals, laws, worldviews, science, philosophy, medicine ... just about any major component of Western Civilization. Asking, "What would it have been like without that?" is actually possible, though, because there have been examples. We know how civilization progressed with Christian influences. Under Christendom we have nice things like human rights endowed by a Creator, world charities, and hospitals. Modern science owes its beginnings to the Christian belief that a rational God made a rational universe, and we could follow it out. Capitalism is a product of the Puritan work ethic. Martin Luther King based his civil rights movement in America in his Christian beliefs. We can see what effects Christianity has on societies. What about ... not?

You can find societies that have not been influenced by Christianity. There aren't too many left, of course, but go to some jungle tribe in South America and see how that works for you. For a more sophisticated version, try out the historical Soviet Union or Communist China. These were societies built on an atheist worldview. How did that work for them? Stalin executed an estimated 20 million people. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn estimated that 66 million political prisoners died in prison under Soviet communism. Mao is estimated to have had 40-70 million executed. Another communist, atheist dictator, Cambodia's Pol Pot, is reputed to have killed 1.7 million. It's not that atheism killed these millions. It's that the removal of the premise of a God who endows people with rights removes the reason to not eliminate anyone that is in the way. So when the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its own oppression of its people and the decline of its economy, it was not unexpected. Without religious influence, it would be mandatory.

I don't know what life would have been like if Beta became prevalent rather than VHS. I can't say for sure how things would have been different if electric cars were developed rather than gasoline-driven vehicles. Would we live in a better world if Apple had been the primary PC rather than IBM's version? Who knows? But I can tell you this. Given examples on both sides, I can say with certainty that the world is a better place because of Christianity. I can go one step further. The more a society (oh, say, like our own) distances itself from Christian moorings, the farther away from quality it will get. We've seen it. It's not pretty.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Spare the Rod

The concept of corporal punishment in Christianity has been a given for ... well ... forever, I think. I offered a host of passages that describe parenting with the use of this method. A common tool of discipline described in these passages is the "rod". That's why a particular segment of our society, bent on changing this forever-concept of corporal punishment as a biblical tool for parenting, have decided to revisit the texts to redefine the concept. Eliminate the biblical concept and you eliminate the parenting concept for Christians, right? So, here's what they do. "You know," they tell you, "you've all misunderstood that term 'rod' as it is used in Scripture."

Go, first, to the passage that everyone seems to know -- the 23rd Psalm. You know it. Quote this part with me.
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me (Psa 23:4).
(Isn't it funny that everyone quotes that in King James English?) There it is; that word "rod". David says it comforts him. Now, look, in what possible sense would anyone say that "That device you use to inflict physical harm to me brings me great comfort"? There, you see? Can't be that the rod is a method of discipline. What then?

Many in the "pro-corporal punishment" side will tell you of the story of the shepherds who, in order to teach wayward lambs not to stray, use their rods to break the lamb's leg and then nurse it back to help. Nice story. Doesn't actually seem to be possible in real life. And no existing shepherd would likely allow it. The "anti-corporal punishment" side will argue (rightly) that this story is a fabrication. They'll argue that the rod was not a tool for injuring sheep, but for "a variety of purposes, primarily to protect the flock from enemies, direct behavior and examine the well-being of individual sheep." There you have it! Not for whacking! Done! But is it? As it turns out shepherds use their rods, as indicated in the quote, to "direct behavior" by throwing the thing at the sheep. That's right. Not too hard. Don't harm the sheep, of course. But give that sheep a thump to get his attention. So, apart from nice analogies without any real-life sources, what does the Bible mean when it speaks of the "rod"?

Here's what we know. It comforted David (Psa 23:4). It was used as a product of love (Prov 13:24). It was not drastic, not supposed to be fatal (Prov 23:13-14). It was used to strike (Prov 23:13-14). In Ezekiel we read of "passing under the rod" (Ezek 20:37). This appears to be a counting method (Lev 27:32). God outlawed killing a slave with a rod (Exo 21:20). He spoke of disciplining with a rod which would produce "stripes" (2 Sam 7:14; Psa 89:32). It was used on the back (Prov 10:13) Job found the rod to be difficult to tolerate (Job 9:34). Solomon compares it to a whip and a bridle (Prov 26:3). It was used to beat things (in this example, dill) (Isa 28:27). Paul gave his readers the option: "Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?" (1 Cor 4:21). In Revelation the rod was used for measuring (Rev 11:1; 21:15-16). Another version was "a rod of iron" which appears to be threatening (Rev 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).

That's what we know. Arguing that "the rod is a gentle device used just to be nice to sheep", you'd have to discard what we know. It is unavoidable that the rod was used to strike as well as to count, measure, and other non-violent things. It is used in Scripture repeatedly to point to painful events. So when you hear it argued that we've all misunderstood "the rod" for all these centuries and are fed a nice version based first on "that kind of rod wouldn't comfort me", don't listen. Be consistent with the Scriptures when you're looking to the Scriptures. Always a good plan. And then you might want to reexamine what comforts you. Does it comfort you that God conforms to what you like, or does it comfort you that He always does what is right, even if that's painful?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ordained to Life Everlasting

In Acts 13 we have the account of Paul and Barnabas setting out from Antioch on their missionary journey. The two of them were set apart by God (Acts 13:2) for this task. They sailed, then, to Cyprus (Acts 13:4) and, after an interesting time there (Acts 13:4-12), went on to Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14). Here Paul gives a sermon to the Jews (Acts 13:15-41), was rejected for it (Acts 13:45), and declares his intent to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-47). And then we find this fascinating verse:
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).
What an interesting text. It's interesting to me because it's out of the blue. In the midst of the Jews reviling Paul and Paul pulling out the Gospel from them, the Gentiles rejoice and glorify the word of the Lord. From the conflict comes glory. It's interesting because many believed at this point -- in the midst of the conflict. But it's also interesting because of the particular text of that last phrase.

First, many believed. Good. But not all. And not a few. Many. This number was, in fact, determined: "As many as were appointed to eternal life". Those who were not appointed to eternal life did not believe.

Second, that phrase "appointed to eternal life". It appears in this text that those who believed did so because they were appointed. The Greek word is τάσσω -- tassō. They were arranged or assigned or ordained to eternal life. Now, we kind of all agree on that, except this appears to indicate that "ordained to eternal life" occurs before "believed". "Appointed to eternal life" seems to be the cause of "believed".

Third is the interconnection of these two phrases -- "many" and "appointed to eternal life". The text says that "as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." Not one more. Not one less. No one wanted in but couldn't get in because they didn't believe. No one who was appointed to eternal life prior to this failed to believe. Just "as many" and not one more or one less.

We see in this simple, unassuming account that a specific number believed and did so on the basis of being appointed in advance to eternal life. Isn't that interesting?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Known by Love

Some time ago I wrote about the difficulty of breaking into a church -- how hard it is to go to a new church and become part of that church body rather than an outsider looking in. I think I've discovered the difficulty.

Churches generally have good plans and programs. They'll have large groups and small groups so you can go where you feel comfortable. They'll have large teaching venues and small teaching venues so you can go where you learn best. They'll have church groups and home groups so you can go where you best fit in. Many will even have interest-specific programs -- divorcees, singles, youth, sports, that kind of stuff -- so you can find like-minded people. All good. But it misses the point.

Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35). Funny thing. He didn't say we would be known for our adaptable groups, our generous teaching, our home groups, or how well we meet the special interests of believers. No, it was "love for one another." And that, I think, is what I am finding lacking in so many churches.

Oh, they're not unkind. They're not mean. They're friendly enough and all. The greeter at the door greets with a smile. They'll shake your hand in the "Let's all say hello to each other" part of the service. Someone will call you if you fill out the card. I don't mean that it's hostile. It's just not ... love. They might invite you to their group or call you to thank you for coming or see if you have any questions, but what is missing is actually caring. We've checked off the box -- invite or call or thank -- but do we care? Do we care about others? Are we concerned about their well-being? Do we love?

We are all commanded to love, but Christians are supposed to be known for their love for one another, something above and beyond that command to love your neighbor. No church program or policy is going to accomplish this. It has to come from people with hearts not twisted by the world of self-serving but hearts transformed by the renewal of the Spirit. Too many of us are satisfied with programs and procedures; we need to love.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When It's Okay to Beat Your Kids

Adrian Peterson, a running back for the Minnesota Vikings, made the news last week when he was arrested for child abuse. Recognizing that there is more than one question involved here, Peterson has at least been the source of a whole new discussion on the topic of corporal punishment. To borrow from Shakespeare, "To spank or not to spank; that is the question."

First, science has a very clear answer: spanking doesn't work. Of course, it is also possible to find studies that say the opposite. But studies also show that prayer doesn't work, so do I go with the studies or do I go with the Word of God?

I, of course, would need to respond from a biblical worldview. What does the Bible tell me is true? If it's God's Word and God is always right, I have to go with that, regardless of your friendly studies. What does God say about it? First, what the Bible does not say: "Spare the rod; spoil the child." An ever popular but non-existent biblical quote. What does it say?
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Prov 13:24)

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Prov 22:15)

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. (Prov 23:13-14)

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Prov 29:15)
The Bible is not silent on the topic. Nor does God's Word subscribe to current science's certainty of the negative effects of spanking. Instead, the Bible argues that a failure to spank is hate while spanking is love, that spanking helps remove childish foolishness, that spanking has a saving effect, that spanking even produces wisdom. Odd. None of these appear to be negative.

It is argued by some who call themselves Christians that the Bible is wrong on these counts, but others argue that it isn't so much wrong, but that taking them as they are written is wrong. It's cultural, or it's old, or it's misunderstood. We know better now. This sounds very intelligent and even compassionate, but you really run into a problem when you see the Bible claiming that God Himself disciplines with corporal punishment. In the Old Testament God affirmed that if Israel chose to go contrary to God's commands, "I Myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins." (Lev 26:28). That word, translated in the ESV as "discipline", is yâsar, which means literally to chastise with blows. In the New Testament we are assured, "For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." (Heb 12:6). The first word, "disciplines", means to train up a child -- benign enough -- but the second is μαστιγόω -- mastigoō -- meaning "to flog". Sorry. Can't get around that. Both Old and New Testaments tell us that God Himself uses painful methods to train those whom He loves.

"So, then, you'd favor child abuse?" You see, that's where it always goes. "When it is okay to beat your kids?" I'd say "Never." I'd suggest, in fact, that this is the problem with science's studies. There is no differentiation between loving discipline and beating your kids. Here, let's look at the easiest place to see the problem. In the famous "Love chapter" from Paul's first epistle to the church at Corinth we read, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Cor 13:1). "Umm, Stan ... there's nothing there about spanking." Yes, I know but think about it. What defines "good things" in this text? "Speaking in tongues", "prophesy", "wisdom", "knowledge", "generosity" -- all of these are "good things", but Paul says that without love they are completely useless ... at best. And that's where studies (and even many proponents of corporal punishment) fail. The key ingredient to effective discipline is love.

Look at that first text up there from Proverbs. Notice the cause and effect. "He who loves" a child ... disciplines. The rod of Proverbs is described as the product of love. How it is, then, that so many well-meaning parents use it without love? And why would anyone (professing Christian, genuine Christian, or your average pro-spanking parent) think that training kids without love would be effective?

I would argue, then, that we can actually glean a little more from Scripture on the subject of spanking:

1. Always in love (1 Cor 13:1-3). If you are going to spank your child because you're angry or "I'm gonna teach that boy a lesson!" or anything except a genuine concern for his or her best interests, don't do it.

2. Never too much (Eph 6:4). We read, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." It's a balance between too much -- provoking your children -- and not enough -- failing to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

3. Limited use (Prov 22:15). I draw this from the texts above. Nothing in the texts suggests corporal punishment for ignorance or stupidity. They didn't hear. They forgot. A beating to remind them isn't in view here. "Folly" -- that's in view. Direct disobedience. Willful. Foolishness is knowing what is right and refusing to do it. The word is most literally translated "perverse" -- showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable. That's the idea.

4. Always in love. Yeah, I know, I said that, but it can't be stressed enough.

I'm quite certain that the world's version of "spanking" and the Bible's version are not the same. The world's version is "a beating". I'd agree with the studies that beating kids is not helpful. But I also believe that the Bible is abundantly clear that parents who love their kids will use corporal punishment as part of the training of their kids. I believe it is equally clear that love must be at the core of this process. Care needs to be exercised in this. Training is in view. Parents must impose limits on themselves. But if we are to accept God's Word as the Word of God, a parent who loves his or her child will, of a necessity, find it necessary at some point or another (preferably very early on) to train with the use of non-abusive, lovingly administered, carefully applied pain. God does it. I don't suppose we're better parents than He is.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Importance of Being Us

You have have heard this before. If not, you may have thought it. Or, more likely, felt it. One way or another, I think this idea is extremely common. "God must have found us pretty important if He sent His Son to die in our place."

Nice idea and all. Sounds good, but that's largely because it's coming from our inherent self-centeredness, our humanism. When laid up against Scripture, I think, it becomes problematic. You see, The Word says, "Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other" (Deut 4:39). There is no other. Not even me. Or us. God is the highest and best. He is the one and only. He is the Creator. There is no other.

You see, if God is going to be consistent with reality, He must regard Himself as the highest being. So when we think that God found us important enough to surrender His own will or desires or even His Son, we've missed it.

Would you expect different? If your friend, Bob, made a really cool vacuum cleaner and then chose to consider it more important than himself, would you congratulate him on his insight or have him seek professional help? But us? We're thinking that God ought to think more highly of us than He ought to. We've missed it.

God didn't make us because He thought we were important. He made us for His glory. The error of sin isn't because we're naughty children. It's because we fall short of the glory of God. We miss the point. God made us for His glory. He made us as a gift for His Son. Because His Son is of equal importance and deserving equal love.

Now, imagine this. I love my wife. (Okay, that doesn't take imagination; I really do.) So let's say that my wife loves special orchids. (Now that is imaginary.) Her birthday is coming, so I decide to grow her a special orchid for her birthday. This orchid is special because it is sentient, and it is special to me because it is a gift for my wife whom I love. So I spend time tending to my orchid. I feed it and water it and give it sunshine and nutrients and ... everything it needs. What would such an orchid begin to think? Well, of course, it would conclude, "He must have found me pretty important if he spends so much time on my needs." Easy to think that way, really. Understandable. But wrong. Because I love my wife, and I care for the orchid because I love her. The orchid is important to me because I love her and it's a gift for her.

Before time began, God promised us to His Son (Titus 1:1-3). We are a love gift to His Son. We are important and loved in so far as God loves His Son. So He sent His Son to make us a suitable gift ... for His Son. Indeed, the ever popular verse, John 3:16, says that "For God loved the world in this manner; He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." It is a special love placed on those who believe. And we are made for good works that glorify Him (Matt 5:16; Eph 2:10). We are in work to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29), a Bride suitable for the King of kings. We are His love gift to His Son. That's the importance of being us. We are important simply as a gift for God's Son. It is not for nothing that we are warned "not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think" (Rom 12:3).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How Great Thou Art

O Lord, my God, when I, in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee,
"How great Thou art! How great Thou art!"
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee,
"How great Thou art! How great Thou art!"
This (one of my all-time favorites) was originally a poem entitled "O Store Gud" written by a Swedish pastor after experiencing the might of God's nature in a thunderstorm and the beauty of God's nature in the forest and stream he speaks of in the second verse. He wrote it in 1886, but it was translated in the 1930's by a missionary to Russia, Reverend Stuart K. Hine. Reverend Hine added the third verse in Russia, and the fourth in England.

The song is a prayer. One of the fascinating aspects of this prayer is that there are no requests. It is a prayer of adoration. This is almost unheard of in our time. We are a generation of self-centered people who defend and encourage self-centered attitudes and actions. We are the focal point of our own universe. Even in our prayers we are asking God for what we want, for what would make us happy. This prayer focuses entirely on God and His greatness.

Let's listen in as the hymnist talks to God. Note first the address: "O Lord, my God." "Lord" speaks of God's sovereignty, His lordship. In theological terms, it speaks of the transcendence of God, the God above all.

"Lord" isn't a familiar term to modern day Americans. We are an independent nation that worships freedom and independence. We prefer not to recognize anyone as master over us. We have no present-day role to use as an example of the meaning of the term. But we must learn to recognize -- "realize" (that is, to make that which is true real to ourselves) -- that God is Lord. This isn't an opinion. This isn't an option. Any view that strays from the position of God's absolute sovereignty is in error.

The second aspect of the address, "O Lord, my God," is the term "my". To call Him God is correct. There is none other. He is the one and only God. But the term "my" personalizes the relationship between God, the Sovereign, and me. Theologically, this speaks to His immanence -- his near and personal nature.

Martin Luther said that Christianity is a religion of personal pronouns. We constantly read expressions like "my God," "My people," "my Lord." This points to the personal facet of God, the amazing truth that God is interested in me. No other religion in the world carries this concept of personal relationship. But Jesus said that God knows the number of hairs on my head. That's personal. He wants us to know Him. That's astonishing. We can pray with Moses, "Teach me Thy ways, O Lord, that I might know Thee." (Exo. 33:18-23)

The prayer goes on to recognize God through creation. This is a common occurrence in Scripture (e.g., Psa. 19; Rom. 1:20). All of creation points to its Maker. All created things bear the fingerprints of their Creator.

One consideration of nature is "worlds". The word covers many concepts. Above us there are a myriad of galaxies, stars, solar systems -- worlds. But in the microscopic level there are chemical structures made up of molecular structures comprised of atomic structures -- worlds. In our world there are food chains, life cycles, ecosystems, weather patterns -- worlds. God’s hands, the hymnist says, made each of these. (This takes us back to the personal God.) And each of these, as in the thunderstorm, is a picture of God's power.

The only reasonable response to a glimpse of this sovereign, yet personal, transcendent, yet immanent God is, "How great Thou art!" The hymnist sings it with his innermost being, his soul. The soul encompasses one's mind, will, and emotions. A glimpse of God must impact us at these deepest of levels, or it wasn't real. The soul turned toward God has no room for self.
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Paul says "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) The recurring theme of God's love appears all through Scripture (e.g., John 3:16; Phil. 2:5-11; Rom. 8:32). It seems, however, that we have taken that grace for granted, as if we somehow deserve God's love. The hymnist didn't see it that way. "I scarce can take it in," was his thought.

Romans says that God was perfectly willing to reveal His glory by demonstrating His wrath (Rom. 9:22). We have gone to great effort to earn His wrath (Romans 6:23). We are, according to Scripture, God-haters (Rom. 8:7; James 4:4). Yet, Christ demonstrated grace - unmerited favor - on the cross. If I have personal worth, intrinsic value, then there is no grace. He merely practiced wise economy. But the fact is Christ died for us because He wanted to, not because I was so valuable.

"On the cross . . . He bled and died." Crucifixion was the worst way to die. Physically, it was designed for the utmost in pain and torture without immediate death. The whipping, the nails, the continuous physical torture of merely breathing while every bone came out of joint, all designed for slow death. Emotionally, it was devised to humiliate. It was a public torture in which the criminal carried his own instrument of death. He hung naked on the cross in front of all that watched. But the only record of Christ crying out was at the spiritual torment of the cross. At the moment of separation from His Father, He cried, "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" He had never been separated from God. He had never known sin. Yet He became sin for us.

Perhaps most remarkable about that day on the cross was the simple, inescapable fact that Jesus chose to do it. No one required it of Him. He could have said, "No." The hymnist recognized this fact. "My burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin."

How can we see this and not answer with the writer, "Then sings my soul, 'How great Thou art!'" When we take for granted the immense love and grace demonstrated on the cross, we display our ignorance and self-centeredness.
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, "My God, how great Thou art!"
The last verse is a common concept among hymn-writers. Many hymns looked to the return of Christ, to the day that we would be with Him. It was a joyous thought. The prospect of being in the presence of the Almighty God, the company of our Lord and Savior, was too wonderful to imagine.

We were designed for that condition. It was Adam's original condition in the garden, walking with God. We are incomplete here without that fellowship, so we immerse ourselves in spurious pursuits to fill that void. Meanwhile, Jesus promised to prepare for our arrival (John 14:2,3). What delight to know that He is anticipating our coming! Would that we would see it with such joy.

Hine had no misconceptions about that day. We have ideas of sightseeing in heaven or visiting with biblical characters. He saw his proper response to God's presence as bowing in "humble adoration." Bowing to anyone is not a popular concept in our culture. We are proud people who defer to no one. But Scripture readily reveals that this is the most common position of anyone who came in contact with God. We have failed to see the difference between coming boldly into the presence of God and coming arrogantly into the presence of God. That we can stand in His proximity at all should utterly amaze us. Somehow we have contracted a cavalier attitude that God is some "big guy" upstairs who winks at our sin because He loves us. We mustn't fall into that thought trap.

The hymn is aptly titled, "How Great Thou Art!" It speaks of God's sovereignty as Lord - His transcendence - as well as his personal care for us - His immanence. In it we see Him as the joy of our souls and the sole worthy focus of our hearts. And we see ourselves as needy, sinful people. We see the need to turn the eyes of our souls to Him. He must increase, and I must decrease.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Tide Rolls In

Okay, in case you were unclear, here's how it works.

Two Arizona men went to California to get what California calls "married". They went to California because the Arizona State Constitution does not recognize marriage as the union of a man and a man. So they went to where it was recognized. "So?" you may ask. "What difference does that make?" Well, you might think it makes no difference. Marriage is still defined as the union of a man and a woman in Arizona. But it may not last.

As the story unfolds, one of the two men died of cancer. The surviving man sued to have his name listed on the death certificate as "surviving spouse", making him eligible for death benefits. Sued? Yes, because the state didn't recognize him as married. But U.S. District Judge John Sedwick allowed it and "signaled that Arizona's gay marriage ban may not hold up after he hears a broader challenge to the constitutionality of the law."

You see, that's how it works. The plaintiff, Fred McQuire, said it was "something as simple and sensitive as a death certificate." No big deal. But it isn't the case. No matter how it is accomplished, marriage will be overridden. Californians voted to put it in their state law and the courts threw it out as unconstitutional. So they voted to put it in their constitution and the courts threw it out again. Now any state that stands for a definition of marriage that has been the traditional, longstanding, historical definition is being sued. And other methods, like this "We'll go someplace where it's legal and then force the place we live where it isn't legal to recognize it and that should help eliminate the longstanding, traditional, historical definition."

Why did the judge rule in his favor? The judge ruled that McQuire "demonstrated that he faced irreparable emotional harm" from not being allowed to be listed as the surviving spouse. Note that it was specifically not financial consequences. When we start determining truth from a person's perception of "emotional harm", we are lost.

Now, I could complain again about the false statement that Arizona has a ban on gay marriage, but who's listening, right? Clearly it is not a matter of logic, a matter of history, a matter of reasoning, a matter of the will of the people, a matter of what's right. It's a matter of an extreme minority coercing an entire population to redefine a key societal concept and claiming it is a constitutional right so loudly that no one seems to be able to hear the truth anymore.

And here's the kicker paragraph in the story.
"The court has not yet decided whether there is a conflict between Arizona law and the Constitution, but the court has decided that it is probable that there is such a conflict that Arizona will be required to permit same-sex marriages," said Sedwick, who was nominated to the federal bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush.
First, there is no recognition that "same-sex marriage" is a non sequitur. Fine. Second, there is no recognition that Arizona already answered the question because the courts -- the courts, mind you -- are going to decide that "Arizona will be required" to redefine marriage. Most chilling, though, is the tail tacked on the end. This judge was an appointee of a conservative president.

So all of you that urge me to vote for the most conservative candidate even if he's not a good candidate because "Think of the judges he may appoint", you're going to have to do better than that. Because these judges appointed by conservative presidents do not have a very good track record.

Friday, September 12, 2014

God Repents

When I wrote recently about the view that many have, either implicitly or explicitly, that God has failed in some sense or another, one commenter assured me that it was, in fact, biblical. God fails to accomplish His will. End of story. As proof, he offered several passages of Scripture.

One that was typical was Genesis 6:6 (which, humorously, was listed as "6:66" ... which is the number of the mark of the beast, is it not?). The text in question is, "The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart." (Genesis 6:6 NASB). Well, now, that's quite clear, isn't it? It says He was sorry. Other translations say "it repented" Him (KJV, DRB) or that He "repented" (LITV, YLT) or the like.

The Hebrew word is nâcham. It means, most literally, "to sigh". As such, it implies "to be sorry, console or rue; or to avenge (oneself)" and is translated in various places as "comfort (self), ease [one’s self], repent (-er, -ing, self)" (KJV). The word and its ambiguous translation ("was sorry" or "repented" -- not quite the same thing) appears in a couple of Old Testament places, such as 1 Sam 15:11 and 1 Sam 15:35 with the same sense. God was nâcham about something. Now, the meaning of words in the Bible is very important, but, as in all languages, the meaning is determined in part by the word and in part by the context. In fact, all of Scripture is the context for Scripture, so it is important to compare the context of Scripture with the word in question to see if it fits.

So here's what we do know. We know that "The Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind." (1 Sam 15:29). (interesting, isn't it, that it's in the same context as two of the nâcham references?) God does not change His mind. There is no ambiguity there. We know that "In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them." (Psa 139:16). There is no ambiguity when God says, "Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'" (Isa 46:9-10). If God, from the beginning, declares the end and, in ancient times before things are done, declares what will be done, we know He knows everything that will occur. So, here's what we know for certain. When it says, "The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth", it does not mean that He was surprised or changed His mind.

So, we have some options here. We can choose to read the text to say that God does repent -- change His mind because He has new information -- or we can say that this is not the proper understanding of the text. If we choose the former, we also have to figure out why all of Christendom got it wrong all these centuries and why the Holy Spirit failed in His task of leading us to the truth. We have to conclude that God does change His mind and does not know the end from the beginning or record the days of your life before you're born. We can safely conclude that Scripture is actually in contradiction to Scripture, God is not believably represented in the Bible, and the book we have for defining our faith is not a reliable book.

So ... if these "God repents" texts do not mean that God was surprised or repented or changed His mind, what do they mean. Well, if we interpret from the explicit to the implicit, keeping in mind the word in use, I don't think it's too hard to see. God sighed. That's the literal wording, isn't it? God saw where His creation had gone and sighed. He knew it was coming and He knew what would happen and it was, in fact, His plan, but like Jesus at Lazarus's grave -- knowing He would be raising him from the dead -- He was sad that it came to this.

This isn't too hard to see, even in human terms. A couple days ago we here in Arizona had the single highest rainfall in a single day in our recorded history. It wasn't the hundred year flood or the five hundred year flood; it was the thousand year flood. Homes were inundated, roads were covered, the interstate was closed. It was a mess. In an interview with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) representative about how it happened that I-10 could be flooded, he said it was to be expected. You see, Arizona doesn't place a high budget on flood control because, well, we don't have floods like this. This guy knew it would happen someday and wished they could have put more money toward it and all that, but he was still sad that it happened and still was going ahead with what had to be done. That's God. He knew when He made Adam that he would sin and knew when He didn't terminate Adam and Eve that some day He'd have to wipe out the world. It wasn't pleasant, and God ... sighed. But He didn't change His mind and He didn't get caught by surprise and He did proceed to accomplish what He intended to accomplish. And He still does.

Or, as I said, we don't have a God who can declare the end from the beginning, write down your days before you're born, work all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11), or actually be the God described in the Bible.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Christians in Foxholes

Today is the 13th anniversary of the infamous attack on America by a terror group intent on killing Americans because they are Americans. The event was devastating. The aftermath was harsh. And still we remember.

The responses to the attack were interesting. The shock and terror, of course, was expected, and even the patriotic, "God bless America!" even though we're largely a nation that has evicted God from the public square. Some Christian leaders had to foolishly voice their opinion that this was God's judgment on America. A popular response was, "This wasn't God's fault; it is the fault of Man's Free Will." Based on conversations I've had since, it appears that this is the prevalent view. God has His hands tied by His creation when it comes to the bad things that happen. Hurricanes hit and, boy, was God sad that that happened, but, hey, what's a God to do? Terrorists blow up buildings and, oh, my goodness, doesn't God just wish He could have done something about it but, well, He isn't going to interfere. One well-known Christian woman assured us "God is a gentleman and won't interfere." Really? Is that the God we have? Did He not know or was He powerless to stop it or both?

What ever happened to the God of the Bible? This God seems to be a different sort of God than the one of which we hear from Christians. This is what God says about Himself in the words of Scripture:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble. "To whom then will you liken Me that I should be his equal?" says the Holy One (Isa. 40:21-25).

Have you not heard? Long ago I did it, from ancient times I planned it. Now I have brought it to pass, that you should turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were short of strength, they were dismayed and put to shame; they were as the vegetation of the field and as the green herb, as grass on the housetops is scorched before it is grown up (Isa. 37:26-27).

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).
These are words from Isaiah, but they are God speaking about Himself. He says that from His viewpoint human beings are "like grasshoppers". He says that He "reduces rulers to nothing". He says that He destroys their crops. He says that He plans to destroy their fortified cities, and He brings it to pass. In Isaiah 45, God Himself declares that He creates calamity. This is the image God is presenting concerning Himself.

Does God cause bad things? It is important, in answering the question, that we understand that God does not cause sin. Very clearly, "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone." (James 1:13) But don't be deceived into believing that God does not cause unpleasant events. He says He creates calamity. And even in the sin of Man, God is not out of control. He doesn't cause evil, but He surely ordains it. Our clearest proof is our most blessed event, the death of Christ. No sin was more heinous than Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Christ. Of this event, Jesus said, "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22) In other words, God planned for Judas to do what Judas would do. It was foreordained. Judas still bore the responsibility of his choice ("Woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"), but his sin did not mean a deviation from God's plan. God predestined it (Acts 4:27-28).

Do not be deceived. God is sovereign. He plans the events that bring us happiness. He plans the events that bring us sorrow. It is all in His hand, and it is good.

This God is a different God from is being offered to many within the Church today. This God is a God who is intimately involved in everyday existence. This God doesn't retreat from saying "I am the One creating calamity." Instead we read that God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). David rejoiced in the knowledge that God had ordained all his days (Psa. 139:16).

Consider Daniel's viewpoint of his God:
The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god (Dan. 1:2).
This is a key example of God at work. Today's Christian would say "God does not do bad things; these things are caused by Man's sinful Free Will." The events described in Daniel are as bad as they come. Judah was overrun and sent into captivity. The Temple was overrun and its holy vessels were put to profane use in a pagan temple. It doesn't get any worse. But Daniel starts with the very clear statement as to who was in charge in all of this. "The Lord gave" them over. It wasn't pleasant, and it wasn't pretty, but this same Daniel who believed that God had actually given His people into captivity and His holy vessels into pagan use still stood firm in his faith, as evidenced by the rest of the book of Daniel. In Daniel's view, God Himself brought all this to pass, and in Daniel's view God was allowed to do so – it was "fair".

Consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's viewpoint of their God:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Dan. 3:16-18).
These three men stood on the brink of disaster. They were about to suffer a horrible death. So hot was the fire they were to face that it killed those who threw them into it. They spoke confidently, as we would have our heroes do. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire." "You tell them, guys," we cheer. "God can deliver you. Trust in Him." We're behind them. But they aren't lost in a false sense of "God only wants us to be comfortable". They recognize that this may not be His plan. "Even if He does not . . . we are not going to serve your gods." Here we would typically draw the line. If God, in our estimation, is going to be fair to these guys, He must reward their faithfulness to Him by saving them. To do otherwise would not be right. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego disagree. To them, God decides who lives and who dies, and God is just in doing so. His saving them from the fire is not the expected result of their faith. To them, this is right. Their God is the One who decides. Their God is right in what He decides.

This is not the vengeful God being portrayed on one end, the "hands off" God in the middle, or the "He loves us too much" God being offered on the other end. This is the God who is intimately involved in the everyday existence of human beings. This is the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God who brings both affliction and comfort, justice and mercy. This God answers our cries of "That's not fair!" with the simple retort, "Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?" (Rom. 9:20) This God grants us suffering (Phil. 1:29). This is the God who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. There may be painful and frightening things in this valley, but "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." This is the sovereign Lord who "comforts us in all our afflictions" (2 Cor. 1:4) and provides a peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7) by never leaving or forsaking us (Heb. 13:5). We don't have confidence in God because He makes us comfortable. We have confidence in God because He is God, because He is sovereign, and because He will always do what is best.

We have attempted to "fill in the blanks" where God is concerned, and we have failed badly. Did God judge America? Perhaps. Or did He merely withdraw His hand of protection? Could be. But it is folly to try to explain God's intent in the events of September 11 without a specific word from God. It is foolish to assume, for instance, that they are God's judgments and chastening for specific sins. Instead, we need to recognize that every bad thing that happens is part of God's curse upon humanity for our rebellion against Him in our father Adam. We dwell in a cursed world. So we should not jump to the conclusion that all bad things that happen are God's acts of retribution for specific sinful actions. Every evil that befalls us beckons us to return to God Himself (Luke 13:1-5). We need to flee the anemic God offered by our therapeutic culture who loves everybody without discrimination. We need to flee the irate God of the other view that capriciously smites His enemies with wild abandon. The God we need is the God of Daniel, who sovereignly ordains calamity for good purposes. The God we need is the God of Jeremiah who removes tranquility while remaining faithful. The God we need is the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who may not meet our expectations of what we might like, but is certainly to be trusted to perform what is best. We need to see, with Joseph, that "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). This God is not a powerless god who cannot intervene, nor is He a "gentleman" who does not intervene. He is not subject to Man's Free Will nor given to fits of temper. He is the LORD God Almighty (Rev. 4:8), the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14), the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13). He is God of all, over all, through all, and in all (Eph. 4:5), for Whom and through Whom are all things (Heb. 2:10).

It is only in that sovereign, good, faithful God that we can find a peace that passes understanding in times of harsh crisis, and it is only that God that we can offer to the hurting world around us. Any other God is not God at all, but a caricature of the True God – an idol carved by human hands.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kindness and Repentance

If you've been in a church at all, you most likely know that "God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance" (Rom 2:4). Ahhh, yes. A warm feeling, isn't it? Especially after all that "fire and brimstone" of yesteryear. "You see," they tell us, "we need to focus on God's kindness, not His wrath or judgment. Because, after all, that's what this verse tells us. And we want to follow what God's Word tells us."

True, we do. So ... is that what it tells us?

In fact, that's not at all what it's talking about. Check the verse itself:
Do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Rom 2:4).
Oh, now, see? That's not quite so friendly, is it? The context is presuming on the riches of His kindness. But let's take a broader look. What's around the verse?
We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom 2:2-5).
Now, if you're paying attention, I think it becomes abundantly clear that "Let's not talk about God's judgment" is the farthest thing from the context of this passage. Instead, God's judgment is the context. It is the context of the text. It is the context of the context (Rom 1:18-3:20). The point is that we are all sinners (Rom 3:23) all due judgment (Rom 6:23) and all in need of a means of escape. It's the "Bad News" that precedes and defines the "Good News".

So what is Paul saying? Paul is explaining that we're all in trouble. We all justly deserve God's wrath. He will "render to each one according to his works" (Rom 2:6), and that's not a good thing for us. Paul is stating the problem. Explaining clearly, then, God's righteous wrath and judgment, we are left with a question. "Okay ... now what?!" And the answer ... is God's kindness. Having necessarily and clearly explained the trouble we're in, we are left with a kind opportunity from God to repent and get right with Him. That's the message.

But, that's not the meaning of the verse in question. The verse in question is a warning. We are procrastinators when it comes to doing what is good and right. We don't think "it will happen to me" when it surely will. We think "I've still got time" when we don't. We ... presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience. And that, Paul tells us, is dangerous.

God's kindness means that He offers repentance when He doesn't need to offer repentance. That's good news! When people procrastinate on that good news, they do so at their own peril. It isn't an eternal offer. This is a limited-time opportunity. Watch out! And that's Paul's message. So the next time you think, "Perhaps we shouldn't be talking about judgment so much since it's God's kindness that leads us to repentance," ask yourself how it would appear to be kindness if they don't know it's needed or it's for a finite time? Maybe we should continue in the tradition of the prophets, the New Testament writers, and Christ Himself because God's judgment is real, right, and coming, and we have the message to help avoid it as long as we tell people they need it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Christian Humanism

We're all aware, I'm sure, of the prevalence of Secular Humanism in our world. You know what that is. It's the premise that there is no God, making humans the focus of attention. As it turns out, Humanism has many shades. Secular Humanism is only one of them. Modern humanism started in reaction to medieval Christianity, trying to merge Christianity with philosophies like those of Plato and Aristotle. The idea offered by Thomas Aquinas was that humans have within themselves the full capability to answer all of life's most pressing questions. The drift, then, was a man-centered drift. The drift was what has become known as Renaissance Humanism. That was just the beginning.

There is a version called "Christian Humanism" that views Christianity as self-fulfillment by Christian principles. (I'm not writing about that.) Western Cultural Humanism focuses attention of the culture on humans. Science, politics, ethics, law -- all originate with and for Man. Modern Humanism is more of a rejection of the supernatural in favor of Man as the source of morality and anything else worth having. It starts with and for Man. So, in the final analysis, all humanism is the same -- a center on Man.

What surprises me is the number of Christians that operate as Christians from a humanist base. Here's how it works. God is all about us. If He is to be a good God, He has to be good to us. For instance, if He allows suffering and death, that's bad. Bad God! So we'll try to make excuses for Him. "He is limited by Man's Free Will." "He cannot know the future." The alternative, of course, is "Well, then, He's not a good God and I'm rejecting Him." Which, as it turns out, is an extremely common starting place for most atheists. They are or were mad at God because God didn't do for them what they wanted Him to. And that's humanism. It's all about us.

So God is required to be nice to humans. He must focus His attentions on us, work hard to make us happy, healthy, and comfortable, and this all while we are mostly rejecting the noxious "Name it and claim it", Prosperity "Gospel". Any Christian who has read the Bible with any sincere effort can see that this is a stupid theology, but we then proceed with our own humanistic Christianity based on God's obligation to Man. He must save us. Or try to. At least really, really want to. Because we are, at heart, humanists.

"History" is not a mere word. All of the history of Mankind is His story. It's about God. It's about His work and His glory and His interests. Our intrinsic starting point, Man, is the wrong starting point in a theistic universe -- the one we live in. The correct starting point must be, "What has God revealed about Himself in His Word?" and work our way down from there. Because I'm pretty sure that, when you do that, you'll find some rather startling and humbling conclusions about the centrality of Man ... or the lack thereof.

Monday, September 08, 2014

God Fails

At times I feel like there is a very real sense among believers that God has made some bad choices or has failed to do what He intended. Now, of course, I don't think that any true believer would actually agree with that, but it sure feels like it.

Take, for instance, the whole salvation thing. Most Christians believe that Christ came to save the world. And failed. Clearly and unequivocally. He desired to save everyone and He tried to save everyone but ... well ... couldn't pull it off. His hands were tied by His creatures that prevented Him from accomplishing His will.

Take, as another example, Jesus's promise to send His Holy Spirit. "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). Well, again, nice try, Jesus. Apparently the Spirit has made a miserable mess of this. Because, clearly it took 2000 years for Him to get through to His disciples that homosexual behavior really is a good thing, that marriage isn't at all what we thought it was, that women really should be in power in churches, that God really is not Omniscient ... all sorts of things like that. We've recently (from the Enlightenment through the Post-Modern world) figured out that the Church and Christianity have all been wrong on so many things for the entire lifetime of Christendom and we have arrived at the truth. Sorry, Holy Spirit. That has been a colossal failure.

I've heard some believers question God's failure to provide enough information. Maybe it's in the Word. Why didn't He say more? Why wasn't He clearer on what He did say? What about other situations like we face today that weren't around back then? How are we to face our current cultural and societal worldviews with a book written 2000 years ago? I mean, look, He doesn't even address the morality of driving as a simple and silly example. How can we know what is true and right when there is so much left unsaid? Or maybe it's in His presentation to the world. Why doesn't God make Himself clearer to unbelievers? Why doesn't He do miracles and signs today that would make believers out of skeptics? Why doesn't He have a dead person rise, for instance? The New Atheists complain that they can't see enough evidence for the existence of God. Why not give them the evidence? God could have provided us with more comprehensive input and He could provide measurable, visible proofs of His existence. Why doesn't He? It's a point of failure.

Skeptics are very happy to point out the failure of God in removing evil and pointless suffering. Unfortunately, even believers will complain about this to some degree. Why do bad things happen to good people? It has been a question for ages. Why doesn't God solve the problem of evil? There are only a few possibilities here. Either God lacks the will or the ability. Either He is not omnibenevolent or He is not omniscient or He is not omnipotent. God could solve the problem of evil, could prevent children from dying, could stop natural disasters and man-made disasters and the like. Why doesn't He? We can't fix, as an example from current events, the whole ISIS problem where fanatic Muslims are murdering and beheading and killing and destroying, but God could, couldn't He? Worst of all is the whole problem of Hell, the ultimate evil. Is this a failure of His love or a failure of His power? Your choice.

I, of course, see all of these through a different lens. If I start with "God is good" and other clear biblical presentations of His nature, including "God works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11), then I answer these questions from a different direction. He hasn't failed. He saves whom He intends. He has provided the truth and our failure to accept it is not His failure to provide it. He has given us enough information in the Word and has provided more than sufficient evidence of His existence. It isn't a failure on His part when ungodly and unrighteous men suppress the truth (Rom 1:18). I even see, in His nature and in the pages of Scripture, an answer to the problem of evil and why God hasn't removed it. But that's just me.

I don't expect the skeptic, the unbeliever, to have a problem with God's failures. They're unbelievers. But I am stunned at the number of believers that hold positions that require the conclusion that God has indeed failed. They won't admit to it and they will explain why it's all okay. One well-known apologist argues, "God has to play the hand He was dealt," as if that solves the dilemma. It doesn't. So what about you? Is yours a God who has succeeded at everything He does, or is He not quite that capable? Did He intend to save the world and fail, or is He accomplishing exactly what He intended? Did the Holy Spirit lead His own into the truth, or are we only now discovering what that is? Is there a real problem with God's failure to provide sufficient instructions and adequate evidence, or has He done exactly as He intended, and it is good? Is the problem of evil and suffering a story of a shortcoming on God's part, or is it exactly His plan, and that for good? You decide.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Getting It Right

Even in the midst of some of the most horrific persecution the early Church faced, the people, as it turned out, liked them. One of the most compelling factors that brought people to Christ was the Christians themselves. They served where they would be killed. They helped when it cost them everything. They showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of their property (Heb 10:34). And they still do. While conservative Ann Coulter was trashing brave Christians for getting sick for the sake of the gospel, the American public was being shown how a believer loves his neighbor as himself.

What I found most interesting were the comments from Dr. Kent Brantly.

Walking out of the hospital cured of the dreaded Ebola virus, he told the world, "God saved my life." This man had his head and heart in precisely the right place.
As I lay in my bed in Liberia for nine days, getting sicker each day, I prayed God would help be more faithful in even in my illness, and that in my illness or even death he would glorified.
God would be glorified in his illness and even in his death? That was Dr. Brantly's view.
Through the care of the Samaritan's Purse and SIM missionary team in Liberia, the use of an experimental drug, and the expertise and resources of the health care team at Emory University Hospital, God saved my life – a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers.
What a perfect juxtaposition. The bottom line -- "God saved my life." How? "Through" a host of earthly efforts -- the care of the team in Liberia, the use of an experimental drug, the expertise of doctors, and the prayers of thousands. But let's be clear (as he was). These were all means. "God saved my life."

Of course, his isn't the most popular view of God and His Sovereignty, but I sure think it is the right one. Through various means, often mundane and common and sometimes even miraculous, God accomplishes His will. In this case, it was the saving of Dr. Kent Brantly's life. Dr. Brantly saw that God's glory could be found in either saving his life or taking it. This time it was best seen in the saving of it. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Liberty and License

When we think of "license" we typically think of "formal permission from a governmental or other constituted authority to do something." You know, "driver's license", "contractor's license", "marriage license", that sort of thing. But it has a much broader sense. It means "permission to do or not to do something." The root of the word is the Latin licēns, meaning simply "to be allowed". It is no large step, then, to go from "license" -- permission to do something -- to "licentious" -- "unrestrained by law or morality."

America was built on Christian values. (Note: Not all of the founders of our country were Christians, but most were working off Christian principles.) So when they built it on principles of rights, they built it on rights endowed by a Creator. When they built it on principles of freedom, they built it on principles of Christian freedom. You see, while we (Americans and even American Christians) practically worship liberty, there is a real danger in it. Unchecked, liberty will turn into license and license into licentiousness.

Welcome to liberty unchecked, the increasing definition of American freedom. We used to be bound by a shared sense of morality rooted in Christian values, but we've moved on from that now. We used to share a common bond of at least a sense of religion, but America is more and more tossing off her religious bindings. We're working now toward real freedom -- freedom from religion. The result, however, is something I don't think we'll like. The result can only be license, the permission to do whatever we want to do. The only possible responses to this untenable condition will be either draconian laws based on no absolutes imposed by the power of the day or anarchy. Or revival. I'll pray for the last option.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Missing Grace

Believers universally stand on the grace of God. We all sing "Amazing Grace", even if it isn't the song. We know we are saved by grace. And we delight in it. Funny thing, though. I suspect most of us miss a major chunk of it.

If I were to chart the views of grace from most believers, I would suggest that most believe God's grace first appears in the pages of the New Testament. That Old Testament God, you see, is ... well ... kind of a meanie. And I'm being kind. That God was harsh; Jesus is gracious. I would contend, if this is the case, that these believers are missing grace.

God's grace and mercy do not first appear at the Cross or even the Incarnation. Would you like to know where they first appear? Go to the third chapter of Genesis. Any competent reader of Scripture will recognize immediately that this is the account of the Fall. The serpent tempts Eve, the two of them eat, they are confronted by God, cursed, and kicked out of the garden. "Yeah, right," I can almost hear the sarcasm already, "that's 'grace'." But wait! It is. Look, what was the threat? What did God say would be the penalty? "From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:17) So, tell me ... did they die? Now, I know, they did indeed die spiritually, but Scripture is pretty clear that they didn't die physically and, indeed, physical death was the product of Adam's sin (Rom 5:12). God would have been perfectly just to simply terminate Adam and Eve and start over. No harm, no foul. He didn't. Instead, He ... promised a Savior (Gen 3:15). That, dear reader, is grace.

Move on. What happened next? God kicked them out of the garden. "Oh, now, see? That is not grace." Or is it? Did you note God's reasoning? "He might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen 3:22). You see, only in death do we arrive in heaven. Immortality would have resulted in everlasting living torment. Grace again.

Next? Well, then they have Cain. How? Well, Eve was convinced, "I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD." (Gen 4:1) Grace again. And, of course, Cain kills his brother, the first murder. Now we see a God of wrath. Oh, no, wait! No we don't. God banishes Cain (punishment), but protects him (grace) (Gen 4:12-15).

Things go on for awhile. Eventually we end up with complete decay. In Genesis 6 it says, "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5) What a statement! "Every intent" and "only evil continually". Not an ounce of good. So now we see God's wrath. It is in the Flood. He blots out man and beast from the face of the earth. And rightly so. But, He saves a remnant. Why? Why would He do that? "Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Why would God save anything from this miserable bunch? Grace, my friend. Pure grace.

You can trace God's activities throughout the Old Testament. While we surely see a lot of smiting and curses and thunder and lightning and stuff, do not make the mistake of missing the grace. He chose a remnant from Abraham completely for His own purposes. He chose Jacob, the Usurper, as the father of the chosen people. He gave them Moses and Samuel and Saul and David and Solomon. He sent leaders to get them the Promised Land and judges to free them from oppression caused by their sin and prophets to remind them. The Old Testament is full of God's grace.

It is one of our human weaknesses. We appreciate grace. Then we begin to expect it. Then we demand it. But grace that is owed is not grace. Grace is unmerited favor. And the God of grace that sent His Son to die for us started to demonstrate that grace on the first day that Man sinned. He's still doing it today. Never discount that. Don't miss His grace.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

What Would You Do?

The discussion was regarding the instructions of God on the role of women in the Church (1 Tim 2:9-15). I, of course, stuck with the traditional understanding of Scripture, while others argued for the newest version which suggests that, after all, Paul came from a place where women were not educated and today he'd be fine with it. Fine. You decide. But here's my question. What if?

One of the most inane statements you will find in all of Scripture is when Peter was commanded by God to eat from the sheet of food God was providing. Peter's response was classic: "No, Lord." (Acts 10:14) Get it? Foolish indeed. "No, Lord." A contradiction in terms. Either He is Lord and we submit or He is not and we don't have to. Not "No, Lord." And yet ...

So back to my question. Looking again at that passage in 1 Timothy, let's ask a hypothetical question. Hypothetically let's say that you received enlightenment from, say, the Holy Spirit and you saw that the text meant exactly what it seemed to say. Let's take it to the extreme. Women should not wear braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire. The Spirit tells you, "Yes, that's exactly what I mean." Women should learn quietly with all submissiveness. "Yes," He says again, "I mean that just as it seems to say." And God does not permit a woman to teach or take authority over a man. "Yep!" He says one more time (as if the Holy Spirit would ever say, "Yep!") "I intended it just as it looks right there on the page." Okay, good. No more questions. No more examination. No more discussion about what it does or doesn't mean. Church History and modern society are irrelevant at this point. You're all clear on what it means. So ... what do you do?

If you're a woman do you stop wearing fancy hair-dos and expensive clothes and jewelry? Do you remain quiet and learn with submissiveness? Do you refuse to teach men or take authority over them? Is that your determined course of action? Or do you say, "Well, actually, it isn't too practical in today's world and, after all, we've come a long way from that and it wouldn't even be appreciated today if I did that, so I'm going to rely on the grace of God and just ignore it"? Perhaps, it's "Well, if God is like that, I don't want anything to do with Him."

If you're a man do you have the temerity to stand on that position against the world, against society, against culture, perhaps even against the women in your family and in your home? Do you choose to agree with it and consider it of value? Or do you say, "Yes, well, that's true, apparently, but, after all, is it any good to do battle over something like this? Won't it just sow division in the church? Won't it just put enmity between me and the rest? I mean, what kind of a witness would I be if I stood on what appears to be clear male chauvinism? I'm going to rely on the grace of God and just ignore it"? Perhaps, it's "Well, if God is like that, I don't want anything to do with Him."

That's the question. The question, of course, is somewhat simpler and broader. Do you conclude that what God says is true and, as such, it is that on which you should stand and act, or do you conclude that circumstances and culture are a better, safer place to stand? Do you say, "No, Lord"? What would you do?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


As every Christian knows, relativism is a problem. Just taking Jesus at His word, when He said, "I am ... the Truth", it requires that there be Truth. So the grand view of "relativism" that holds to a "true for you" perspective isn't going to work if there is genuine truth.

That being said, I need to point out two important concerns.

First, relativism is true. That is, there are things that are relatively true, that are true for me, for instance, and not for you. The mantra of relativism is "true for you, but not for me", and there are, in fact, actual, truthful applications of that concept. As an example, I like a hot climate, but my son moved to Washington because he likes a cold climate. "I like a hot climate" is true for me, but not for my son. I find beauty in just about every kind of landscape I find, but most people do not. "Most landscapes have their own beauty" is true for me, but not necessarily for everyone. The famous "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is a statement of relativism. Or, on a much more pragmatic ground, I can't eat strawberries because their seeds cause me problems, but most of the world can eat them just fine, so "strawberries are bad for you" is true for me, but not for most of the world. Even biblically there is moral relativism. Paul says that there are some who may eat anything and others that only eat vegetables. "Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him" (Rom 14:3). This biblical concept -- we refer to it as "Christian Liberty" -- is there in Scripture. These are examples of authentic relativism. I suspect that these kind of relativistic facts make the whole thing murkier than it should be, but don't simply throw out all relativism because of the abuse of the concept.

There is another thought on relativism that I'd like to examine. I've heard it said from multiple sources that "Christianity is true for you, but not for me" (relativism), but more often it is "all religions are basically the same; it's just that each has its own extra ideas in it." This is relativism again. These are suggestions that you may certainly believe as you wish; truth here is not an issue. Just be "good" (without any sense of a definition of that "good"). So you will find a Christian who says, "You know, the Bible says homosexual behavior is a sin" and will hear in response, "So, don't do it, but don't tell me not to." Relativism. "True for you, but not for me." And in this, the point is missed.

You see, if there is a God and if that God has the right to declare right and wrong -- good and bad[1] -- then these things are right and good. It doesn't matter what your opinion of them might be. It doesn't matter if they agree with your view. If God exists, then there is a truth about good and bad, morally speaking, and we don't get to decide whether they're right or not. They are truly good and bad. At this point, then, what you believe about what is good and bad is irrelevant. What is relevant is what is true.

Here, let me try a desert example (because I live in the desert). I invite you out for a hike in our lovely desert (because, after all, I think landscapes have their own beauty). So we're out for a pleasant walk when, suddenly, I stop you and say, "Look out! There's a rattlesnake under that bush up ahead." From a relativistic perspective, you might say, "I don't see it, so it's true for you, but not for me." You'd be a fool. You might even push me aside and walk on, ignoring my warning. And when it bit you, you might even be angry at me for not doing more to stop you. Because, you see, whether or not you agree with what I see, there is a truth. It doesn't matter if you see it as true or not. If it is true and you ignore it, it will still bite you.

Relativism is popular. Some like it to the extreme. Others are less so. But the fact is that if there is a God, there is truth, even in the realm of morality. When God declares something as good and we refuse it or that something is sin and we deny it, it won't simply be a case of "Well, it was true for you, but not for me." So the real aim is to discover what is true from God's perspective of good and evil and aligning ourselves to it. Unfortunately, the most popular route is the reverse, determining what we like and don't like and declaring it good or evil in opposition to God. Like that snake you disavow in my desert walk, that won't work out well for you. Nor would it be kind of me to simply let you ignore it.
[1] We are assuming here the God of the Bible who, by definition is good and, therefore, is right and good in what He declares right and good.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Hard Sayings -- Women and the Church

One of the most difficult passages in Scripture is that messy "women in the church" passage that upsets the whole male/female balance struck by many today.
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control (1 Tim 2:11-15).
It doesn't take a super genius to see the difficulty. "Now, wait!" you will hear from both men and women, "Are you saying that women are supposed to learn quietly, to be in submission, and, most of all, not to teach or be in authority over men in the church?" So let me be, first and foremost, absolutely clear: no, no I am not saying that. The Bible is.

Okay, having said that, it seems abundantly clear that we should be abundantly clear on just what it is saying. If we wish to be followers of Christ, faithful to the Word, we need to know what is being said and follow it (rather than applying our own meaning to it and then calling ourselves "faithful to the Word").

First, it is unavoidable that there are instructions being given to men (1 Tim 2:8) and to women (the text above). Some would like to argue that it is to husbands and wives. This doesn't really work out. First, the context doesn't offer any hints of the kind. Second, Paul references "Adam" and "Eve" -- the prototype "Man" and "Woman" of all men and women -- in his explanation, so it would appear to be beyond "husband and wife".

No, it would appear, from the text, that Paul is indeed commanding that women learn quietly in submission and not to teach or take authority over men. The reasoning is based in the Creation Order and predicated on "Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived." This, indeed, has been the understanding of the passage in the Church since the beginning. Only of late has this changed.

Still, that last verse is ... problematic. Just what does that mean? "Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control" (1 Tim 2:15). That one, you see, isn't quite so clear at all.

So, first, what it cannot mean:

1. The means of salvation from sin and God's wrath is different for men than for women. Men are saved by faith; women are saved by having babies.

2. Only mothers can be saved; childless women go to Hell.

3. Women are less important than men.

None of those are consistent with Scripture or the text itself. Fine, so what does it mean?

Some suggest that it is a reference to the promise to Eve in Gen 3:15 that the Savior would come through her. Most modern commentators dismiss this as untenable and somewhat useless in the context it is used here.

Barnes argues that the idea is that the stigma of being the one that introduced sin into the world will not be hers because of the woman's position as the progenitor of the human race. (Note: Barnes points out that the Greek term, τεκνογονία, translated here as "childbearing" refers to parentage as well as the entire set of maternal duties, including the education and training of offspring.)

Clarke believes this is a reference to Mary as the mother of Christ, that this is a reference to the fact that the Savior was to be born of a woman. Thus, this "saved" refers to the fact that all mankind finds their salvation in the Savior born of a woman. As it turns out, this is a very popular view in older commentaries.

Gill offers a hybrid that argues that this salvation refers both to being saved from the stigma of Eve's introduction of sin in the world by means of offspring and raising children as well as the fact that the Savior was born of a woman and brings salvation to the world.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown comments on the "through" aspect, similar to "through the fire" (1 Cor 3:15) as opposed to "because of". The thinking is "In spite of the problems of childbirth, women are saved." This commentary also hangs on the "home duties", her sphere (as distinct from the man's sphere).

Robertson's Word Pictures indicates this "saved" refers to the impact a woman has. Men have an impact by leadership roles and public teaching; women have an impact in the duties of a wife and mother. Both are significant.

Most commentaries point to "if they continue ..." as imperative. That is, they might be saved through childbearing (as in "in spite of"), but they are not saved from sin by childbearing. They are saved (from sin - 1 Tim 2:14) by faith demonstrated in a life that reflects saving faith.

Note that the "she" in this verse refers to all women (who are saved), not just Eve (see "they" at the end of the verse).

Men go through the pain of leadership (Mark 9:42) and public teaching (James 3:1); women go through the pain of childbirth, raising children, and making a home. Neither are saved from wrath by these things. Both leave their mark through them. Both are saved by a living faith.

I don't know that I've found a more diverse offering of meanings for a single text anywhere else in Scripture. All agree it isn't that women are saved by making babies. All agree that it does not mean that women are less valuable than men. Beyond that, it gets ... different. I like some of the ideas. I don't think that any of them either allow for a dismissal of the principle that women should not teach or usurp male leadership (the standard understanding throughout Church History) or for the notion that women are "less". Beyond that, it isn't clear. You may have to decide for yourself. Just don't do it by ignoring Scripture.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Labor Day

The first Monday in September is Labor Day in America. It is an annual tribute to workers, recognizing their contribution to "the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country." The first Labor Day holiday was in New York City in 1882. From there it spread from state to state. Congress passed the act making it a holiday in 1894. It used to be marked with parades and picnics "for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families." Of course, the size of many industrial areas makes this impractical today, but we're still recognizing and appreciating laborers ... by having a day away from labor.

Work has gotten a bad name for many. For the lazy, of course, it has always been a bad thing. Many Christians, however, see it as part of the curse.
Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. "Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return." (Gen 3:17-19)
I would submit that this would be a misunderstanding. Note that the first thing God assigned Adam in the garden was ... work. He put him to work tending the garden and naming the animals. So work is part of what makes humans operate correctly. The curse was that it would be hard. Sin has made the necessary and good concept of work into hard labor. But work is good.

You've heard, I'm sure, of "the Puritan work ethic" (or "Protestant work ethic"). German sociologist Max Weber maintained that Capitalism came into being by this work ethic. Believing in a Sovereign God and the biblical "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), the Puritans argued that everything was for the glory of God including work. They didn't believe in "a job"; they believed in "a vocation", as in "a calling of God". From your pastor to your barber to your blacksmith, each person had a calling in life from God with which they were to bless their families, their community, and the world. "Work" wasn't a burden. It was ministry.

Work isn't a curse. It's a blessing. Paul instructed, "If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either." (2 Thess 3:10) Indeed, he went so far as to say, "if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (1 Tim 5:8) Even God works. Jesus said, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." (John 5:17) He said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." (John 6:29) As imitators of God, we ought to work and are blessed to work.

When your work becomes a ministry rather than merely "hard labor", there is indeed a sense of strength, prosperity, and well-being for the country. While most of us today try to find "fulfilling jobs", perhaps finding where God can use us best would be a better option ... or even finding how we can be used where we are. In every case, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." (Col 3:17) I think that would definitely include your work. "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men." (Col 3:23) Then our labor will be for the glory of God, and that cannot be in vain.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

When I am Weak, He is Strong

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me--to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Cor 12:7-10)
I'm sure I'm probably the only one, but I struggle with sin. I have not, as yet, arrived at perfection. Indeed, I'm not at all sure what it looks like. So I struggle along, recognizing sin in my life, repenting, sometimes stopping, sometimes returning to it, always hating it. I ask God to remove it from me and rarely is it supernaturally gone. It appears to me as if I have ... "a messenger of Satan to torment me."

Oh, now, that's interesting, isn't it? Now, I'm not saying that's what Paul's thorn was. But it was the same as mine in the sense that it was a messenger of Satan. So, Paul and I share in this difficulty. And what did he call it? "Weakness." Well, now, yes indeed, that's what I'd call it. So now I'm interested in Paul's response to the weakness in himself that God didn't remove because I have weakness in myself that God doesn't remove. What was his response? Complaint? Grumbling? Depression? Hopelessness? Anger? Nope!

"I will rather boast about my weaknesses," he says (and isn't it interesting that he classifies them as plural?). "I am well content with weaknesses."

Why was Paul content with weakness? He gives several reasons. First, he was learning the sufficiency of God's grace. "My grace is sufficient for you." Beyond that, he served as a vessel where God could perfect His power in Paul's weakness. He became a perfect place, in weakness, for the power of Christ to dwell. Ultimately, the whole effect produced strength. "When I am weak, then I am strong."

Weakness isn't pleasant, but weakness has very positive effects in the believer. I want to move toward that contentment. Contentment in trusting in His power, resting in His strength. I never want to hear coming out of my mouth the foolish, "Don't worry, Lord, I got this." In my recognition of my shortcomings I can remain dependent on Him and serve as a vehicle for His work. Both important things for every follower of Christ.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Same-Sex Marriage

I would like to announce to the world that I am in favor of same-sex marriage. Indeed, I think it is preferable. Even perhaps part of the definition of the term, "marriage".

It is my intent and my great pleasure to be married to my wife and to engage in sexual relations with the same woman and only that woman for the rest of my life. Same-sex. That's good and right.

Oh, wait ... that's probably not what you thought I meant by the term, is it?

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Tower of Babel

I have complained for years about the demise of the English language. More precisely, about the decay of language as a tool of communication. Danny over at The Bumbling Genius has written a good article on this concept. Apparently, I'm not alone in my concern. It is, as Danny indicates, a modern version of the Tower of Babel.

Some change is inevitable. Technology drives the necessity for new terms. A mouse once clearly referenced a small creature for which you purchased a trap or a cat to eliminate and eventually every computer user had one for the computer. Not the same thing. Dictionaries are constantly adding new words to keep up with changes in technology. That's to be expected. And British English and American English, for instance, are similar but not the same. A "bonnet" has been a piece of brimless headgear and the hood of a car. In the U.S. we ride in elevators and in the U.K. they ride in lifts. People here live in apartments and in flats there. And so it goes. And the language just evolves. Did you know, for instance, that the "perks" of a job were originally the "perquisites" and we just got too lazy to say the whole word? Then, of course, people are always making up new words. The cell service provider, Sprint, has coined "framily" as a merge of "friends" and "family". Silly. Theodore Roosevelt coined "muckraker" and George W. Bush brought us "misunderestimate" and "embettermment". New terms.

So in many cases due to changes in environment, changes in geography, or just changes over time, the meaning of words change. It is to be expected. And it isn't much of a problem -- that is, as long as the original intent still exists. So if the British still have a word that refers to brimless hats and the Americans still have a word that refers to the hood of a car, the idea of the words still exists and we just have to learn what word expresses that to the other. As long as we understand that "perquisites" has been shortened to "perks", it's not a problem since the meaning hasn't changed, just the usage.

This, unfortunately, isn't always the case. In too many places, words are being subverted without being replaced. One of the obvious examples is the current redefinition of the term, "marriage". It has always meant the union of a man and a woman, but today we've stripped off that meaning, substituted "two people (an arbitrary number ... and, indeed, an arbitrary type -- "people") who love each other and want to commit to each other, at least for awhile." It used to be understood as a lifelong arrangement. Now it's most often temporary. It used to include monogamy; now it is "monogamish" -- serial monogamy. "Only one at a time ... or not." (Even that word "monogamy" has changed. That used to refer to marriage, demonstrating a difference between bigamy (married to two people at the same time) and polygamy (married to multiple people at the same time). No longer. Now it references the number of people with whom you are having sex. Now how is that the same?) So, if I wish to refer to the union of a man and a woman for life, what word is left me today? I can't say "marriage" because that word no longer means that, either in gender or in longevity.

In older movies, songs, and stories there are people who were "making love". This original sense was to be doing those things -- words and deeds -- that inspired love (which has also changed, largely, to mean "sex" but didn't used to mean that at all). That concept has not merely changed; it has vanished. Now the phrase refers to engaging in sexual activity ... and that activity may or may not include actual love. So if I wanted to refer to those things that produce a feeling of love, what term would I use? There isn't one anymore.

It seems like one of the biggest areas of the demise of the meaning of words without substitutes is in the area of Christianity. It is largely the Christians who wish to keep "marriage" just as it has always been intended while the rest of our culture is fine with eliminating the concept while they subvert the word. We've had to work hard to get across the idea of the genuine Christian. We've gone from "Are you a Christian?" to "Are you saved?" to "Are you born-again?" to ... what is it now? ... because each term shifted under our feet. Language and concepts have shifted continually and mostly in the arena of Christian concepts of morality. Sex, fidelity, idolatry, even the meanings of theological terms like Omniscience or "the Atonement" -- these concepts are moving. And they aren't trivial. Trying to discuss them or debate them becomes a monumental task when the words for them have either changed or vanished. So we end up with "I'm a Christian" and "I'm a Christian" and neither one means the same thing at all. Two people separated by a common language.

Danny suggests that we become "bilingual", speaking both the language as we know it as well as the language as those with whom we are communicating know it. That, of course, is a good idea, but I'm just not sure about the practicality of it. The language, it seems, is in constant transition. I will be comfortable with a word only to discover that the meaning has shifted. Just when I nail down the new meaning, it has changed again. Then, when I try to assimilate this new one, it turns out the idea I was trying to express no longer has a word. I don't know the answer, but I suspect that the culprit to this dilemma is not a friend of Man or God.