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Thursday, July 20, 2017

When You Can't Find a Good Church

It's a common complaint among many. "I've looked for a good church in my area, but I can't find one." Maybe the music is too loud or too boring. Maybe the preaching isn't ... whatever. Not enough of the Word. Too much of the world. "I'm not being fed." "I'm not able to worship." "I don't feel welcomed." Lots of things. I've seen both "They're King James Only" and "They're not King James Only." Lots of things.

So what do you do if you can't find a church? There is a tendency among many to join the "Nones", the "I'm spiritual but not a part of any organized religious function" group. One famous author said she had given up on Christianity but was still a believer in Christ. That kind of thing. For some of these it's not so much a position as a surrender. "What else can I do?" I, of course, would recommend a biblical approach. What can we find in Scripture to answer this dilemma?

Well, here's what we know. We know that God's Word says that the church will be in trouble. For instance, false teachers will come out from the church (1 John 2:18-20). Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:18) and warned that in the end the danger was that the very elect would be deceived (Matt 24:24). I think many of us today could raise our hands and say, "Yep, we're seeing this today."

We also know that Christ's followers are commanded to be in church. There is no getting around the clear command to not forsake our assembling together for fellowship (Heb 10:25). (As a side note, do you know what the very next verse says? "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins." A bit pointed, isn't it?) We know that the Scriptures are full of "one anothers", commands about how we are to work and relate and interact with each other, starting with "love one another", all of which are impossible if we are not involved with one another. And, of course, we know that each of us is gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit "for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7). In other words, no matter what else we see around us, we know that "the unchurched Christian" is an oxymoron -- both unwise and outside of God's commands.

So, here we are with these two genuine conditions. On one hand, churches will be difficult -- some twisted, some perverted, some downright lost. There can be no doubt that no matter how good your church is, you will not find the perfect church because churches are filled with imperfect people. On the other hand, we know that church is mandatory for believers in order to share in worship, in fellowship, in the Word, and in the building up of one another. Not being there is not an option. I know that it is even possible for Christians to go to church and not be part of church, just as much missing the mark as the believer who does not go at all. So church will be tough and followers of Christ do not have the option not to be involved in the church.

What to do? Not do anything is not an option. We'll call that ... sin. Followers of Christ -- those who call Jesus "Lord" -- will not find that a biblical possibility. So it would seem that, if a Christian is going to follow Christ, it will be necessary to engage in extreme diligence in finding a church. That diligence will begin with prayer -- perhaps extreme prayer. And the road may not be easy. There is no perfect church. Maybe the music isn't what you want or maybe the preaching isn't what you have in mind. Maybe you're not "fed" or "moved" or "welcomed". But I'm pretty sure that there is somewhere that you can plug yourself in, maybe as more of a minister than a visitor, and worship and serve and love the brethren (John 13:35). I once worked with a guy in the military who was a career military guy. His plan, wherever the military took him, was to find a nearby church and insert himself and his family in that church to be involved and to minister wherever that was. This guy understood "church".

Jesus didn't say, "You will build My church." Lots of voices today bemoan the passing of anything resembling Christ's Church in our present time. If it's not dead, it's surely sick. If we don't do something, it will vanish. It's not a new theme, of course. Elijah was quite sure that he was the last believer in his day (1 Kings 19:10). God told him He had kept 7,000 believers (1 Kings 19:18). Maybe genuine believers are harder to find these days, but Jesus said, "I will build My church" (Matt 16:18) against which nothing will prevail. Our command is like Peter's -- "Feed My sheep." (John 21:15) So in churches where Christ is obscured or where mistaken methods are employed or where imperfect people are found (In case you're unclear, it turns out that I'm referring to every church where people are found), Christ still calls His followers to minister one to another. We are not commanded to "be fed" or "feel warmly toward God" or whatever other common complaints are out there. And it is undeniable that many of the groups with Christian-sounding names on the front are no longer Christian churches. But there will be believers everywhere for believers to join in building one another and worship together. Find that. Because "I'm a Christian, but I don't go to church" makes no biblical sense.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Spiritual Gifts

In 1 Corinthians Paul writes about spiritual gifts.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor 12:1-7)
He goes on (and on), but I think this is worth considering for a moment.

Spiritual gifts and, in fact, the Holy Spirit Himself seem to be somewhat neglected and misused these days. Either He's some mysterious "Force" like something out of Star Wars or Someone we give a head nod to and move along. Jesus called Him "the Helper" and promised He would "teach you all things" (John 14:26). It was for the Spirit that Jesus said "It is to your advantage that I go away" (John 16:7). The Spirit would convict the world (John 16:8-11), give us words to speak, and lead us into all truth (John 16:13). And in the passage above we read that He alters our perspective and gives gifts.

Now, we know that there are a variety of gifts and ministries and effects -- there is variety in the Body of Christ -- but there are two points that are constant. First, "to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit." God's Word tells us here that all of God's children -- all believers -- are gifted children. Each of us has a gift from the Spirit. These are not talents or skills. They are supernatural gifts. They are gifts from the Lord manifested by the Spirit. Not one of God's children is devoid of at least one of these gifts.

The other key point here is the purpose. Each of us has a manifestation of the Holy Spirit "for the common good." Now, I've heard people tell me, "Oh, yeah, I have a gift; it's the gift of gab." (Why is that the most common?) They smile and I'm supposed to laugh, but how is that "for the common good"? No, this is missing the point. The manifestations we have of the Holy Spirit -- that we all have -- are not for us -- for our pleasure or comfort -- but for the common good.

How is it, then, that so many do not know what their gift is and/or do not use their gift? How is it that many seem to be ignoring this amazing operation of God in us? A large number of believers figure that being invested in the Body of Christ with local believers just isn't that important, but that's the place where these gifts are most needed. Many who do go to church just attend without bothering to use their gifts for the common good. Imagine that! "Here, My child," God says, "I have a wonderful, miraculous gift for you." And you take it and say "Thank you" and put it in the closet. "I wonder if I can regift that?" It is a gift of and by the Holy Spirit -- a "manifestation of the Spirit." "Yeah, yeah, but ..." How do we do this? How do we do this to the God we love and the people we're supposed to?

A primary component of being a believer, a follower of Christ, is the presence and gifting of the Holy Spirit. We have the power of God in us, and that is not a generic power -- that is the person of the Holy Spirit. We are given that presence for our good and for the good of others -- the common good. I would think that we who belong to Christ would be keenly interested in worshiping Him by serving Him in the way that He intended we should by using His gifts for His people. Am I? Are you? I'd think it would be a matter of importance to you and I rather than something we appear to largely ignore.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Words of My Mouth (Psa 19:14)

In the middle of James's epistle, he explains to his readers about the nature of saving faith -- it produces works (James 2:14-26). Necessarily. Faith without works is dead. That faith cannot save. The very next topic that James addresses -- keeping in mind that faith produces works -- is the topic of ... the tongue.

Isn't that interesting?

He talks about the danger of too many becoming teachers (James 3:1). He says that teachers could incur judgment, but that we all stumble in many ways (James 3:2). Keep that in mind. None of us are without error. None of us achieve sinless perfection. "We all stumble in many ways." So, with that in mind, James goes on to talk about the tongue.

He compares it to the bit in the horse's mouth and the rudder of a ship (James 3:3-5), small things that change the courses of large things. Like a spark that sets a forest ablaze (James 3:5), the tongue is a small thing that "it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison." (James 3:8)

It is interesting to note, in James's discussion that, while the bit or the rudder changes the directions of big things, it is not the bit or the rudder that chooses the direction. In the case of the ship, for instance, it is the pilot. The pilot uses the rudder to direct the ship. So, what is the problem with the tongue? It is the pilot, the director. In the human case, it is the heart. Just as the "rudder" that directs the "ship" is the result of the "pilot", our words are the result of the heart. Our mouths, in their most candid moments, evince the ugliness that is in our hearts. James speaks of fountains and fig trees, of the fact that things do not produce both good and bad (James 3:11-14). James warns of our duplicity, appearing to speak good when our hearts are evil. "If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth." (James 3:14)

I cannot imagine a more appropriate message for our life and times. We have honed words to a 144 character knife edge, wielding them like a sword to slice and dice our opponents. People who call themselves Christians will seek to correct wayward opponents with foul language and ugly words as if this is "godly". Corner some "loving Christians" and they will respond with vitriol and vituperative words. Some will even end the string with "love you, brother." From the relative anonymity of the Internet, "We bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God." (James 3:9) James says, "From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way." (James 3:10)

So, keeping in mind the original thought -- faith produces works -- and keeping in mind that the problem of the small thing that changes big things is not the small thing, but the heart, we need to ask ourselves, "What does my tongue say about my heart?" We need to question our use of words, our choice of language, the things we say to others and why. In a way, the Internet can be helpful here because in a way the Internet provides us a less guarded place to speak, so we can have the evil within more clearly exposed.

We all sin in many ways. We all err in our words because we all fight with a heart problem. But that doesn't mean we're excused, that we should go on about our business. It means that we ought to be in the business of seeking out and correcting the sin in our hearts. That work of God will be displayed in our words. It ought to be the concern of every true believer.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Going Down to Egypt

God had some harsh things to say to Israel. One, however, was a bit odd, don't you think?
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD! (Isa 31:1)
Okay, so what do we know? We know that it's bad. "Woe" is a bad thing. We know that the bad thing is pronounced upon "those who go down to Egypt for help." Umm, okay. So ...?

Well, of course, you know what was going on. Judah's enemies were coming. Assyria, a seemingly invincible powerhouse, was going to consume Judah and enslave them all. So, what do you do? Well, the wise thing would be to ally yourself with another invincible powerhouse. You know, get a strong bodyguard or something. So the best idea for Judah would be to get help from Egypt. They had the military capability to help defend Judah from Assyria. At least, that's what the world would say. And that's what they were doing. So, it is "woeful" to be wise this way? Yes, yes it is. Why?

He doesn't leave us to guess. "They did not look to the Holy One of Israel nor seek the Lord."

There are those who say that it is wrong to use worldly methods. I have yet to find anyone (including Christ) who did not use "worldly methods". Jesus, for instance, wore clothes just like everyone else. His basic approach to spreading the truth was speaking to the crowd just like everyone else. He ate and slept and traveled just like everyone else. Jesus used common methods in His life and ministry. Still, this argument is often floated among Christians. The primary target is in ministry. Some argue that churches shouldn't be using projectors or modern music or other ministry techniques. We should not be "going down to Egypt." But the problem was not the use of human methods. The problem was relying on them. The problem was trusting in them. The problem was failing to look to God.

The question, then, is not "what methods?" but "in whom do you trust?" The question is a heart question. Are we using these means because "What we're doing isn't working" or is it because we're trusting God to use means to accomplish His aims? Are we trying to prop up "a failing church" or are we trusting Christ who said "I will build My church" (Matt 16:18)? Are we relying on church marketing methods and plans or God's Word and power?

God pronounces woe against those who "go down to Egypt", who place their trust in the methods and resources of the world rather than the Lord. The question is who you're going to trust. Is it the world, or is it God? Simple. And you'd think that Christians would have no problem with the answer. We do, to our shame.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Joy and Strength

Nehemiah told the people, "The joy of the LORD is your strength." (Neh 8:10) It's a warm thought, of course. It is (was?) a popular song. We clap and sing and it's wonderful. But in what sense could the joy of the Lord be your strength?

Jesus said He came "that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) Paul commands, "Rejoice in the Lord always." (Phil 4:4) We know that a fruit of the Spirit is joy (Gal 5:22). Conversely, God warned Israel that they would become prisoners of their enemies "because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things." (Deut 28:47-48) There is, then, joy as part of the abundant life in Christ. And there are consequences for not serving God with joy and a glad heart.

But how is joy strength? Well, first, ordinary scientific studies will tell you that joyful people are better off. They're healthier mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Joy is good for us. Then there is the spiritual issue. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34)

So, there it is in a nutshell. Where's your heart? Well, it's found in what you value the most. So, what do you value most? If it is Christ ... if your greatest joy is in loving and trusting and serving Christ, then you will find a strength that will encompass your world. If not, don't anticipate the kind of strength that joy brings. Because it is strength only when your joy is in God.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

News Weakly - 7/15/2017

I'm on the road, so news items have been mostly inaccessible. That would be good news, I suppose, since it will make this a short one.

Social Engineering with a gun
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis put on hold the opening of military enlistment to transgender people for 6 months in order to review plans and inform their people. They will be instructing their people that gender is defined by the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) and you'd darn well better get over it. What? Yes, the training indicates that soldiers designated by DEERS but not yet surgically altered will be sharing "female barracks, bathroom, and shower facilities." You object? Well, that's considered harassment and discrimination ... which, apparently, only goes one way.

I've heard of the Army Corps of Engineers, but this is making the military into a social engineer ... with a gun. Did not see that coming.

Email Theft
Now, I'll admit, I'm not really clear on this whole story, and it's all very odd and unpleasant and such, but I'm somewhat baffled by this bombshell that Trump Jr. released incriminating emails about being pleased that Russia had stuff on Hillary. I'm baffled because I would expect the X Political Candidate team to be happy about having negative information about Y Political Candidate. I'm confused because haven't we all agreed that the release of private emails is bad and it is unfair to expect it? Or is it a good thing when it's dirt on the candidate we don't like but evil when it's "our guy"? I have nothing good to say about Trump, his party, his presidential run, or his team. It just seems to be another double standard and it's getting pretty tiring.

God in Trouble
Well, as we would expect, God is afraid He might be on the wrong side of history. Apparently God is realizing that His "objective morals seem to be more and more out of step with the current culture’s ever-changing standards." You can see that, for sure. Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Only God ...

You know the sentence: "Only God can judge me." You also know the verse. "Judge not." More to the point, we all know that it's not cool to judge others. And the truth is we do not have the option of sending someone to or relieving them from Hell, so any judgment we might have available to us is limited anyway.

In a world that demands that we not be "judgmental" (I put it in quotes because the current climate seems to be extremely judgmental about being judgmental.), I'm trying to correlate that idea with these words from Christ:
"Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him." (Luke 17:1-4)
Jesus said this with some urgency, it seems. I mean, "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea" seems pretty stark. Jesus thinks it's important. So when He says to His followers, "If your brother sins, rebuke him," it would seem to me that Jesus is telling His followers to be ... judgmental.

Mind you, it's for a good cause. Jesus appeared to focus here on His followers. Judging outsiders does not appear to be in view here. And there are certain characteristics that are often present that shouldn't be. No "righteous indignation". No self-righteousness. No superiority. When Paul addresses the same topic, he warns, "Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." (Gal 6:1) This isn't a pleasant or triumphant thing. It's a humble thing. It's an act of love. The aim is to restore, not punish. In fact, Jesus's primary point is to forgive.

There are all sorts of ways we can go about this wrong. We ought not do any of those. But clearly if we are commanded to do this -- to rebuke a brother who sins -- then the other wrong approach would be to tell the Master, "No! I won't."

We have a duty. We have a duty to follow our Leader. We have a duty to be obedient children. In that, we have a duty to "Pay attention to yourselves!" That is, we have a duty to watch out for each other. If sin is there, we have a duty to rebuke and restore. And forgive. Very important -- forgive. But it is a duty, a sacred duty handed to us by our Savior. The current climate of ignoring and even embracing sin flies in the face of this sacred duty. Followers of Christ need to be careful here.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Highway to Hell

I've said it before. We are not where we are on a short term jaunt. We've worked hard to get where we are.

"Stop it, Stan, and make sense."

Okay, I'll try. Bible-believing Christians (and most rational people) understand that marriage is defined as the lifelong union of one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation (family) and mutual support. (I included "most rational people" in that because it has been the definition for all of history until the 21st century. It's not just "a Bible thing".) We have arrived, now, at a different place, where marriage is defined as ... well ... an arbitrary relationship between an arbitrary number (two) of arbitrarily-gendered people. (All others -- animal, vegetable, or mineral -- need not apply.) How did we get here? Contrary to popular theory, it is not due to some "gay agenda" that fomented revolt over the past 20 years or so. No, we worked a long time for this. We dismantled every piece, decade by decade, until nothing was left. We discarded "for the purpose of procreation" with legalized and celebrated birth control. We jettisoned "for life" with "no fault divorce" (a complete oxymoron). We threw aside "family" and "special relationship" by embracing "cohabitation". And that leaves us with ... well, nothing at all -- what we have today. We worked hard for what is called "marriage" today, and we earned it, but it wasn't "the gays". No, we did this together.

As a result, fewer people are marrying. Why? It means nothing. More people are divorcing. Why not? It means nothing. More kids are born out of wedlock. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, some 41% of babies born in America are born to unwed mothers. (Among Blacks, that number is at 72%.) That's up from less than 10% in 1965. More single-parent kids are suffering the negative outcomes of missing a parent. Why? We built that. We drove down this road and we've arrived. Marriage, family, stability, parenthood, all these and more have been dashed aside so we can have ... what we have now.

It's not just "marriage", either. Look at how far women have come. From those miserable days when unkind, overbearing men oppressed women, we've moved through the "suffragettes" and the Feminist Movement up to today. The difference is day and night. And it has been a long struggle. They've gone from the often-abused gender to the ascendant gender where many rules in society actually give them priority rather than mere equality. Sure, not in all aspects, but in many. There are companies owned by women for the purpose of getting lucrative contracts with various organizations that prefer "minority-owned" status including women and excluding men, especially white men. There are women as doctors and lawyers and engineers and other fields they never were allowed in. There are women in politics, women as CEOs, women as ambassadors, women in most all areas of life. In some circles the mere presence of men is considered "sexist".

And, yet, here we are, dissatisfied. Now men can become women. Women can become men. We've pushed this cart so far up the hill that we've arrived at "gender dysphoria" -- delusions of gender that makes gender impossible to test and impossible to define. It was once good and right for men to give way to women ("Ladies first") and now it's an insult. If we can no longer define sex, how can we have sexism? We know now that gender is a social construct and men and women are only different by means of stereotypes, not objective reality. It can only be the archaic types that would take umbrage at a Donald Trump speaking and acting rudely toward women as he does because we've demolished all that "women are different" and "women deserve respect" stuff, right? Well, no, of course not. Because we've arrived, in this long battle for "female equality" -- at a schizophrenic position that says women do not need your help, they are not different, they deserve no additional respect or support, and ... if you fail to offer help, fail to see them as different, fail to respect them and support them, you're an evil sexist pig. Considerate, thinking men now have a conundrum at the door: "Will she slap me for opening it for her or for failing to do so?" One never knows.

Just a couple of examples. We've worked hard getting to where we are today. Maybe "work" isn't the right word. For the most part it has been more of a train ride than a march. Just some careful track switches here and there and we went with the flow. Unfortunately we've arrived somewhere that doesn't make much sense and no one is really happy with and we're all pointing fingers at each other because our current stop looks more like a prison camp than a resort and we're not going to like this.

But, don't worry. If you campaign for better politicians and urge better laws and, perhaps most importantly, impeach the current president, things will get better. Pay no attention to the long set of tracks that brought us where we are or the human condition called sin that got us here. As it has always been,
Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up to ... (Rom 1:21-24)
There is a way back. It's not a short trip. Nor is it accomplished by self-help and hard work. The biblical term is "repentance" (Matt 3:8; Luke 5:32; 2 Cor 7:10). Given the twisted thinking of today's world where "marriage" doesn't mean "marriage", gender is not real, and the definition of life is whatever you want, repentance is going to have to be the work of God in the human heart (Acts 16:14; 2 Tim 2:24-25).

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Faith and Works

In the middle of James's epistle we find a principle explained that should seem obvious but eludes many. I believe, in fact, that this principle in his epistle is the primary point of the epistle, that everything else revolves around it. The primary principle is about faith ... and works.

You know the passage. James 2:14-26 begins with a rhetorical hypothetical. "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14) Obviously he is not actually asking the question. The answer is a given. But it leads down some interesting paths. "What is important," he seems to be asking, "believing the right thing or doing the right thing?" His next hypothetical is about believing the right thing. You see a brother or sister in need and you don't help, but you wish them well. "What use is that?" he asks (James 2:15-16). None, of course. Good intentions -- right beliefs -- don't actually accomplish anything. In the same way, "faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." (James 2:17) Imagine that! Dead faith.

Okay, so, obviously right belief isn't the answer ... right? Right works is what's important. Until James addresses a hypothetical naysayer. "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18) You see, works without faith is of no use either. On the other hand, right beliefs without works merely qualifies you to be in the company of demons (James 2:19).

Imagine that! In the domain of demons there is better theology than in our domain. There are no atheists among demons. There are no agnostics. They know the truth. No doubt. No skepticism. No quibbling.

What then? As it turns out, to the question "Is it faith or is it works?", the right answer is "Yes." It is right belief and right actions. We are saved by grace through faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9) for good works (Eph 2:10). We are called to repent and we are called to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matt 3:8; Acts 26:20) Right beliefs, right doctrine, right faith is required for right works. Conversely, right beliefs that do not produce right works is of no use. Both are required.

Are we saved by works? No, we are saved by faith in Christ. Oh, then we are not concerned about works? No, faith in Christ alone that does not produce works is dead faith and cannot save. We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone. Believing the truth and acting on it are both important.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Gracious Judgment

In Romans 1 Paul lays out a sequence of God giving Man over to worse and worse sin, starting with "though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks" (Rom 1:21) culminating in a list of evils of the "depraved mind" (Rom 1:28) that takes up 6 verses (Rom 1:28-32). And as the chapter ends, we sit there and nod our heads and say, "Yep, those are really evil persons." Of course, the passage doesn't end at Romans 1:32. Paul has not finished his thought.
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Rom 2:1-3)
You see what he did there? He set us up. "You can all see that this is bad," he said, followed with "you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." We were so clever to recognize that sin in those rotten folk and so blind as to miss it in ourselves. "Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." (Rom 2:5) Oh, not good, brothers and sisters, not good at all.

But wait! It's okay. What is he warning about? "The judgment of God." Oh, whew! What a relief! Turns out that God's judgment is gracious, not harsh. We're okay!

If this is what you believe -- if this is what you draw out of Scripture somehow, then you're not paying attention.

In this text alone Paul warns not of "gracious judgment", but stored wrath. "God," he says, "will render 'to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation." (Rom 2:6-8) This is not good. And it's not just Paul's idea. Jesus told those who asked Him about people that Pilate killed, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-5) "Likewise." "In a similar way." Crushed, splattered, utterly defeated, no escape. Doesn't sound like grace. In Revelation it speaks of multiple rounds of God's wrath being poured out. The Scriptures say, "The great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Rev 6:17) What wrath? "The wrath of the Lamb." (Rev 6:16) That's Christ, and that's not grace.

There are voices today (I won't name names, but one in particular might ring a Bell) that want to tell us that it's all okay. Jesus saves. Nothing to worry about. If it's not universal salvation, it's nearly universal. This ranges from "everyone will make it" to "only those who really, really don't want to in the end will not make it." "And," they assure us, "it's not going to be that bad. At worst, it's simply being snuffed out of existence, not some eternal suffering or some such." This is why they're happy to say, "Only God can judge me." It's because He's a nice old man who, I guess, is just tired of all that Old Testament "smiting" and just wants to hug all of His creation. It will all be fine.

It won't. It's not biblical. It's not rational. It's not real. The judgment of God is not gracious. Grace is the opposite of judgment. Mercy is opposed to judgment. And God reserves His grace and mercy for, in Jesus's words, "few" (Matt 7:12-14). For those of you who are trying to relieve the potential fear sinners have of the judgment of God, you're not doing them any favors by telling them it's gracious. It's not. The Old Testament God didn't think so. The New Testament God (Jesus) didn't think so. The final book (Revelation) doesn't think so. Convincing someone standing in front of an onrushing bus that it won't hurt is not doing them a favor. Convincing them God's judgment is gracious is worse.

Monday, July 10, 2017

From Foolishness to Wisdom

Scripture lists three virtues along a common line. You will find knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. What is the difference? As it turns out, you can find a common line in the opposite direction as well -- ignorance, stupidity, foolishness. What is the difference? Turns out these two trajectories are parallel.

Ignorance is not stupidity. It is the lack of information. It is "don't know". Now, there is "willful ignorance" -- "I refuse to know" -- but I'm just talking about the basic form here. It isn't bad -- evil -- to be ignorant. The solution to ignorance is information. The solution to ignorance is knowledge. "Knowledge" is knowing something. It is the possession of facts, data, information.

Stupidity is something different. Basically, in juxtaposition with "ignorance", stupidity is the failure to grasp the truth. It is improper use of the truth. It differs from a lack of knowledge in that it has the knowledge, but simply fails to understand it and, therefore, misuses and abuses it. Understanding, on the other hand, is a step past knowing. It is a grasp of the knowledge. It is a comprehension of how it works. A person, for instance, may know all the pieces of a car engine, but it takes understanding to put together how it works. A person can know that Bill killed Marty, but it takes understanding to know why. Stupidity lacks this understanding.

Then there is foolishness. Foolishness assumes knowledge and even understanding. The fool knows truth and even has a grasp of it to some degree, but the fool fails to properly apply it. David wrote, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psa 14:1) Now, this fool has the knowledge of the world around him and can understand that it all points to God's invisible attributes and His power (Rom 1:19-20), and then declare "There is no God." Silly, sure, but the idea of "foolishness" is that kind of thing -- the misapplication of truth. A fool has the necessary information and understanding but fails to use it properly. Wisdom, then, is the opposite. Wisdom is built on true knowledge that has matured into an understanding of that knowledge that leads to the correct application of that understanding.

On one hand, then, we might move from ignorance -- not knowing -- to stupidity -- knowing but not understanding -- to foolishness -- understanding, but failing to properly use it. On the other we can have knowledge -- correct information -- that leads to understanding -- grasping how that information works -- and ultimately to wisdom -- a correct view of how to properly apply what is known and understood. Two paths leading to bad or good.

The Bible is clear. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Psa 111:10; Prov 9:10). Interestingly, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge," too (Prov 1:7). Therefore, to start with proper knowledge (God) and arrive at the correct way to use that knowledge (the fear of the Lord) starts with (as we would imagine) a fear of the Lord. It would follow, then, that no fear of God leads to foolishness. And the Bible takes a dim view of fools (Psa 14:1; Psa 92:6-7; Prov 10:14,23; Prov 12:15; etc.).

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Counterintuitive

Paul wrote:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on Me." (Rom 15:1-3)
Did you see that? Has the church in America seen that? This is so counterintuitive to American thinking or, to be honest, human thinking. In fact, there are many -- even Christians -- who would cry, "That's wrong!"

What was it? Let's see if I can break it down for clarity. "We who are strong have an obligation ... not to please ourselves." It's easy to miss in all the "bear with the failings" stuff. Good stuff. "Yes! We need to bear with the weak." Indeed. But underlying it is "not to please ourselves." Why? What reason does he give? Simple. We are followers of Christ, and "Christ did not please Himself."

It's not like this is a unique text. He told the Philippian Christians to have "one mind", a singular focus. What focus? "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." (Phil 2:3) There it is again. Of course, Paul goes on to explain that the mindset we are to have is the one that Jesus had (Phil 2:5-8). In that He "emptied Himself" (Phil 2:7). "Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor." (2 Cor 8:9) Again, we are followers of Christ; we ought to follow Christ. He said, "I seek not my own will but the will of Him who sent Me." (John 5:30)

It clearly flies in the face of normal human thinking, where "I am most important", but if "I have been crucified with Christ" and "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20), then it only makes sense that I would not be my primary concern. If "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13), it is only reasonable that I should seek to please Him above everything else ... including myself. I would be at the bottom of my concerns. I just don't want to be one of those who ignores such clear instructions from my Lord and Savior because it seems so counterintuitive, so much against the grain. That is one of the "old" that I want to pass away to be replaced with the "new" (2 Cor 5:17).

Saturday, July 08, 2017

News Weakly - 7/8/2017

Programming note: I will be traveling for a few weeks. I may not post your comments immediately. And if I miss a day, don't be concerned. I'll do my best, but ...

Evangelical Scizophrenia
The New York Times put out an article about Paul Williams, "prominent in the evangelical Christian world, chairman of an organization that started independent churches around the country." He had something to tell his son. He was no longer going to be Paul; he was going to be Paula. Now he's still married to his wife, but they don't live together. He said their therapist told him, "You’re a lesbian and she’s not." But they "share a Christian counseling practice". In his efforts to become more accepted in the evangelical world, he visited Doug Pagitt, founder of the Organizing Progressive Evangelical Network ... because this guy is completely unclear on the point of "evangelical" -- a resistance to "progressive" and "greater inclusiveness" (read "trying to make homosexual behavior acceptable").

His son is pastor of Forefront Brooklyn. He said, "Abortion I didn’t have an opinion on. Premarital sex, same thing." At his church they wouldn't hire a gay person because "we’re under the Orchard Group umbrella, and they take a stance that says this." Not exactly a biblical footing. "He was moving Forefront Brooklyn toward affirming gay members." Because the Bible says nothing at all about the value of human life (abortion), sex outside of marriage (premarital sex), or what God thinks of homosexual behavior (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9-10). Now his church includes worship songs about "'a rainbow of race and gender and color' and claiming 'for everyone born, the right to be free'" and the pastor preaches how Jesus was about upending social structures.

Funny. I never read about that Jesus or calling "include everyone regardless of what Scripture says" "Evangelical". Something's gotta give.

The Harm Ethic
I'm sure you've heard of the theory that "moral" should be determined by "harm". If it causes harm, it should be immoral; if it does not, it should not. This assumes we can identify "harm" and, when we do, we would carry through with our declaration that it is immoral. Neither is true. But then we come across this. You remember the European Court of Human Rights that determined that Russia was passing illegal laws against homosexuals. Now they've decided that Charlie Gard would have his rights best defended ... by killing him. The 11-month-old boy from the UK has a rare condition that makes him unable to move or breathe unassisted. His parents want to take him to the U.S. to have a treatment that might, even if it's remote, save his life. The so-called European Court of Human Rights thinks that attempting to save his life will cause "significant harm" and three UK courts have told them they cannot take him for treatment. So much for the "harm ethic". So much for the Court of "Human Rights".

We'll see what happens. Trump has promised to get him treatment for free if he comes. It's strange that one of America's most hated presidents is a voice of kindness here.

Google It
Google, as a corporation, is not known for its "conservative views". They will, for instance, make "doodles" for an amazing array of events -- Nepal Republic Day, 121st anniversary of the first published timetable in Japan, obscure birthdays, etc. -- but not Memorial Day. Google supported "gay marriage" in California before it was legal. That sort of thing. So it has to come as a surprise that they would invite Tim Keller (twice) and, recently, Stephanie Gray to speak. Stephanie is "a Canadian pro-life apologist. She travels the world making the case for the humanity and personhood of the unborn. She’s co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and now leads a ministry called Love Unleashes Life." Her video surpassed hits for Planned Parenthood president, Cecile Richards within 24 hours. Interesting. The truth is out there.

Not a Good Sign
Walter Shaub Jr., the Director of the Office of Government Ethics, has turned in his resignation. "The move follows months of clashes with the White House over issues such as President Trump's refusal to divest his businesses and the administration's delay in disclosing ethics waivers for appointees." Enough said.

In Brief
So ...
> California is planning to have its own climate summit to force Trump to opt back in to the useless Paris climate agreement ... because California has that kind of power.
> Oregon is planning to force insurers to pay for killing babies.
> United Airlines ... need I say more? They messed up again.
> Get this. Missouri is lowering their minimum wage. Go figure.

These kinds of things need little commentary from me.

Finally, someone is doing something about it
Apparently "the President and Commander in Chief led a squad of White House aides on a wild chase through the West Wing early Monday morning, after the team of assistants attempted to confiscate Trump’s smartphone to prevent him from posting anything on social media." The story goes on to say, "Sources claim a female aide attempted to distract the President while the others sneaked up behind him and made an attempt for the phone."

About time someone did something. And it has to be true; I saw it on the Internet.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Christian Living Expenses

On more than one occasion I've gone on record to say that Jesus does not command His followers to sell all their possessions. This, of course, is in response to the skeptics who say, "You claim to follow Jesus but don't follow His teachings" and to the "Social Justice Warriors" (SJWs) who claim "You ought to obey Jesus and sell everything" (omitting, tellingly, "Even though we don't."). The easiest way to tell that Jesus did not intend His disciples to sell everything they possess is in the fact that Jesus owned things. Thus, if His command is to own nothing, He violated His own command. (I gave more reasons than that; that's just the easiest one to see.)

Of course, neither the skeptics nor the SJWs will go, "Oh, hey, thanks for clearing that up. We're all good now." So that won't work. Unfortunately, those who agree that Jesus didn't actually command abject poverty for all His followers might also have the wrong reaction. Many will see this as vindication. "Hey, it's okay! Go ahead and be filthy rich!" And that would be a mistake as well.

In Luke's Gospel Jesus makes what today's American Christianity might consider a bad move. He tells the crowds, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26-27) I can hear the health-and-wealth folk turning in their living graves. "Oh, hey, don't say that. That sounds too harsh." I can hear the "seeker-sensitive" folk stirring as well. "Whoa, whoa, Jesus, pump your brakes. No one is going to want to come into the fold if you're telling them things like that." Too late. He already said it.

He goes on to speak of counting the cost. He uses examples -- building a tower or going to war -- and explains that you must know what it will cost up front in order to accomplish what you set out to do. This is why He was being so upfront about the cost. If you want to be Jesus's disciple, it will cost you everything. He concludes,
"So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:33)
To the skeptics and the SJWs out there, Jesus didn't command us to sell everything. To the "best life now" folks, Jesus wasn't pro-rich folk. To the would-be follower of Christ, Christian living is expensive. How expensive? His requirement is "all that he has".

Does that not mean, then, that we are supposed to be poverty-stricken and homeless? Not the point. The point is that nothing must stand between you and Christ. Not "father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life" (Luke 14:26). "One's life," Jesus told one man, "does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15) So the idea that we are not commanded to sell everything is not permission to place anything above Christ. The call is to surrender all. Count the cost. Anything less means you cannot be His disciple.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

If I ...

If I am a patriot, politically active, working hard to bring up good leadership and policies and bring down bad ones and have not love, I'm just a political activist. If I spend my time fighting for key social issues and campaigning for the marginalized, and if I boldly fight racism and sexism and hate and microaggression and do not have love, I am merely a clanging bell, an irritant for my world.

If I am a diligent parent, working hard to bring my kids up to be responsible adults, to work hard, to be reliable, and have not love, I am a nag and an overlord. If I treat my spouse well, doing the right things, helping out around the house, giving nice gifts on birthdays and anniversaries, and yet do not love, I arrive only at "manipulative" and self-serving rather than "a good spouse".

If I go to church every week and give of my time and money and read my Bible and know all the right doctrines and do not have love, I am a deceived religionist, counting on religion rather than Christ. If I stand up against "gay marriage" and homosexual behavior and other sexual immorality and the seeping of the world into the church and the flesh into Christendom and have not love, I am a Pharisee of the highest order.

Since the command is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt 22:37) and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt 22:39) and the aim of our instruction is love (1 Tim 1:5) and the fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal 5:22), any of the "good" that we do that does not include the underlying motive of love for God and His creatures is a waste ... at best.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Donkey in the Room

We continue to haggle over the Russian hacking of last year's presidential election. By that we do not mean that the Russians hacked into the voting system and modified the actual votes cast or any such thing. Not at all. No such allegation. The "hacking of the election" refers instead to an apparent work by Russians to hack into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails and obtain nearly 20,000 emails including some 891 documents and 175 spreadsheets giving information about what the DNC was up to. They released that information through WikiLeaks ... and "the crowd went wild".

What did the hack reveal? It revealed efforts by the DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to scuttle Bernie Sanders' campaign and forward Hillary Clinton's. She was forced to resign. There were racist comments, efforts to release false information about Trump, attempts to manipulate the media, efforts toward manufacturing fake protests against the RNC, assaults on Sanders' religion (a Jewish atheist, apparently), collusion with the media (where, for instance, a Politico writer cleared his stories with the DNC before he sent them to his editor), that kind of stuff. It's all pretty seedy although, perhaps, not particular surprising. I mean, it seems like this would be "business as usual" for a lot of campaigns, except, of course, for the "let's shoot down this candidate of ours for that one" thing. That one kind of makes the "Democrats" and "democracy" as distant relations.

Well, of course, none of this will fly. We will not have some foreign government muddling about in our elections. We will find out who did the hack and for whom even if we have to make it up. Heads will roll ... and with any luck, it will be the president's head first ... even though so far no facts have suggested any connection between President Trump himself and the Russians.

Perhaps the Russians did do it. In fact, they apparently hacked the RNC as well. No one is in a snit over that. So everyone is in an uproar over the Russians "hacking our election" by which we mean "the Russians illegally obtained information that made the DNC look bad." I mean, you all know that "interfering with elections" is the norm, right? Government authorities comment all the time about elections in other countries. "We want this guy elected; we don't want that one." "Hey, don't vote for Brexit; it won't do the rest of us any good." That kind of thing. Public figures not part of the election process urging voters to vote the way the public figures want them to -- normal. So it was the releasing of "private information" that was upsetting and we're going to have to hurt someone over that.

Here's the thing that really nags at me, though. While I understand that we're upset that a foreign government illegally obtained and released private information, it appears that the complaint is that they did it and not that the information was false. We are more upset that the information was released; no one is denying that the information is true. "They told everyone" is more upsetting than "The DNC is evil and underhanded in its dealings with its own people and with us." Racist, sexist, even "homophobic" comments from the DNC are not an issue; they're only relevant to the public if they're from the RNC, apparently. So, completely ignoring the elephant in the room (or would it be the donkey?), we are so focused on "those bad Russians" and, obviously, the Republicans that obtained their help (which, again, hasn't been shown) that we're ignoring the facts that no one is refuting. We are so ignoring those facts that it will likely arrive at the point that we will deny them entirely before this is over and focus solely on the messenger, not the message.

We live in an age when "I decide what gender I am and you have no right to use science or anything else to disagree" right alongside "I decide which race you are and you must submit to science or whatever else I choose to use." We live in an age when words don't mean much anymore. They only mean what we decide they mean at the moment we decide and don't you dare conclude otherwise. We live in an age where "fake news" is bad when it's news we don't like and good when it's news we like but never simply bad because it's fake. So why would I be surprised that the country in general and the DNC in particular would ignore the facts that the Democratic National Committee is underhanded and devious and not to be trusted while demanding justice for currently unsubstantiated accusations of Russian hacking and the Republican party? I shouldn't. Doesn't mean I'm not disappointed, though. I'd prefer a world where truth and reason ruled rather than what we have now.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

New History

In George Orwell's 1984 the main character, Winston Smith, worked for the Ministry of Truth, the government organization that was constantly in the job of rewriting history in order to control people and thought. One of the Party slogans was, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." The Ministry of Truth controlled the past (and, therefore, the present and future) by rewriting it. Turns out, it's not as much of a fiction as we might think. Rewriting history has become more common these days. Some try to tell us the Holocaust never happened. These days people are outraged with Christopher Columbus the conquering warrior seeking riches in India because they've been lied to about Christopher Columbus the missionary. Some are working hard to tell us that America is and has always been a horrible country. There appears to be a concerted effort to rewrite history in order to control people. Like American history.

The Mayflower Compact was the defining document for William Bradford and the Pilgrims as they came into their new land. Written to avoid factions and promote unity, they spoke of their loyalty to the king and indicated their purpose in coming to this new land: "for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country." In fact, most of the early settlers of America were Christians either running from persecution or running toward the "advancement of the Christian faith", viewing America as a mission field. It should come as no surprise, then, that America's roots are deeply Christian.

According to ushistory.org, George Washington's Farewell Address "definitely embodies the core beliefs that Washington hoped would continue to guide the nation." Washington, an Episcopal vestryman, said in that address, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports1. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens." He went on to say, "Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Washington was not alone. Many of the Founding Fathers understood good government to be at the top of a pyramid whose base was first religion (and they always meant the Christian religion) that informed morality. Freedom itself was dependent on this base.

Most history scholars believe that the prototype for the U.S. Constitution was the original Connecticut Constitution, known as "The Fundamental Orders." Put in place in 1638 (1639 by today's calendars), the document was the first western-written constitution for establishing their government. It begins this way:
For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence so to order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connectecotte and the lands thereunto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed as followeth:
Heavy on the "Almighty God", "his divine providence", and even "the word of God".

In Isaiah we read, "For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; he will save us. " (Isa 33:22) The Founding Fathers believed this to be an explanation of the key components of government -- judicial, legislative, and executive. They believed that the only right way to run a country was the Christian way. They believed that the only way for a country to survive was if its people had a heart for God -- an internal morality predicated on the Word of God. They believed that the only proper education included Christian teaching. (Did you know that Harvard University's original motto was "Veritas Christo Ecclesiae" -- "Truth for Christ and the Church"?) They believed that the farther we got from this religious/moral basis, the less freedoms could be maintained and the more control the government would need to exert.

I would conclude, then, two things. First, we've been lied to by sources intending to control the present by rewriting the past. These are not sources of good. Second, current events seem to be bearing out the claims and fears of our Founding Fathers. We've jettisoned Christianity from the center, removing it as our primary source of morality, leaving us with waning and purely relative moral values, requiring more laws and bigger government until our freedoms are all but gone. Neither of my conclusions are happy thoughts.
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1 Interesting sidenote. When the nation's founding fathers referred to the word "religion" they had only one religion in mind -- Christianity. They recognized others. They spoke about "the Mohammedans" and such, but when it came to religion driving morality, they referred exclusively to Christianity. This was true of all of them. It didn't matter if they were Christian or deist or atheist. In reference to the sole valid basis for morality, they saw religion, whether or not they agreed with that religion, as the only valid source and the only valid source religion as Christianity.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Not What You Want

I saw a young man the other day with a t-shirt that said, "Only God can judge me."

I couldn't help it. I thought of Jesus's words. "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:18)

Now, maybe that makes someone feel better, but I don't think that's what's in mind with that saying. I'm not at all sure that any of us want God's judgment. Better think again.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

What Do You Really Believe?

There are some marvelous promises for God's people in God's Word.
Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? (Rom 8:31)

"Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt 6:33)
We love promises like these. We really do. We write songs about them. We put them on plaques to hang in our houses. We put them on t-shirts. Really, really great promises.

The question, of course, is, despite all the fawning we might do over them, do we really believe them? You see, if it is true that what we truly believe is displayed in what we actually do, there is a problem here. I mean, we gladly quote and claim that He is greater than the world, and yet we muddle about in the world with anxiety and depression and fear. We boldly sing, "If God is for us, who can be against us?", but we could easily make a list of people and things to answer that question. And, truly, while we love the promise that He will provide if we seek His kingdom, we're still seeking to provide for ourselves in case He doesn't. "We'll get to seeking the kingdom, Lord, when we get a break from making sure we're properly supplied."

Jesus followed up that last promise about "all these things will be added to you" with "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matt 6:34) What, then, are you going to believe? What, then, are you going to do? Will you praise and worship God on Sunday and worry and work the rest of the week to make up for any feared deficiency in God's ability or willingness to provide what He promises? Or will you "overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us" (Rom 8:37)? We like those kinds of promises, but what do we really believe?

Saturday, July 01, 2017

News Weakly - 7/1/2017

Makes Sense to Me
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told SVF that no priests in the church in Sweden should be allowed to refuse to marry same-sex couples. In his view, if they won't do that, they shouldn't be ordained. He compared it to midwives who refuse to perform abortions. Same thing. Now ... let's see ... killing babies is the same thing as killing marriage. Well, okay, I can sort of see it. That it's a good thing? Oh, no. But you Christians in Sweden ought to be aware. "Religious freedom" is not something that your prime minister favors. And it's not just Sweden.

Yes, this is what we were warning would happen
Given Target's firm "If you think you're a girl you get to go in the girl's rooms" policy, we warned that this would happen. The news is reporting that a woman reported that she was photographed in the ladies' dressing room by a man pushing a stroller. True to Target's policies, no one stopped to help.

This Could Get Interesting
The Supreme Court, after refusing in the past to hear such cases, has decided to hear the appeal of the case of the Christian baker in Denver who stood on his First Amendment right to free expression of religion not to be forced to make a cake for a gay mirage1. He doesn't work on Sundays, won't make Halloween cakes, and won't make cakes with alcohol, all on the basis of his religious views. For none of that has anyone declared him discriminatory or culpable. Now he is. Odd, to me, is that the "American Civil Liberties Union" is working so hard to remove this man's First-Amendment-assured civil rights, but, hey, that's not how they see it, is it? No, they're working on new ones these days -- the right to free sexual expression ... right there in the ... oh, wait ... what Amendment covers that? Oh, yeah, the Amendment of "the Tide of Public Opinion".

Another One Bites the Dust
Due to the supreme tolerance and open-mindedness of the secular folk in the so-called "Bible Belt", a privately-funded Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Arkansas state Capitol was run down less than 24 hours after its unveiling. A 32-year-old man drove his car into it. The ACLU was suing to have it removed and the "Arkansas Society of Freethinkers" (who are not, apparently, free to think that it might be a good thing to honor "the historical moral foundation of law") objected strongly, but, it's all over for now. Haters 1, Morals 0.

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1 I am not trying to be unkind with the use of the term "gay mirage". I need to continually point out that there is a fundamental difference between "marriage" and what we are calling "marriage" when we put the term "same-sex", "homosexual", or "gay" in front of it. I am not objecting to it on moral grounds. I am objecting because they're not the same thing, and I use "mirage" in its place to call that to your attention.

Friday, June 30, 2017

God Feeds Them

In a recent discussion about the healthcare problem, we ended up in a discussion about ambition and contentment. I just wanted to know how to correlate the American mindset of "got to have things" (whether it's "exorbitant amounts" or just "socially secure") with the biblical context of "contentment" (Phil 4:11) and anti-greed (Col 3:5). I thought I could just leave it at that. Not a lot of answers, but ...

And then I came across this from Jesus in my reading.
He said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15)
"Oh, that doesn't seem too bad," you might think. Although for most of us "covetousness" is our default. We have to have what they have. We have to "keep up with the Joneses". We have to bring down the "1%" because, if we were honest, we want what they have. I remember one of my teenagers asking for a pair of expensive tennis shoes. "Oh," I asked, "what will they do for you? Will they make you run faster or jump higher or something?" "No," he admitted. "So why do you want them?" "Because," he grinned, "they're cool." Covetousness.

You see, I'm not seeking this stuff out. I'm not obsessing here. This is just in my daily reading of Scripture. It's hard to avoid when Jesus really lays it on.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:22-34)
Wow! Oh, sure, it is a lot of words, but He lays it all out so clearly. God takes care of His own, so why should you be anxious about anything? Conversely, you don't have the power to add an hour to your life, so why worry? God takes care of grass; He can surely take care of you. He knows (better than you do) what you need and will provide.

Given this rather wordy and yet completely clear instruction from Christ, what, then, do we do? I mean, sure, we are commanded to work, to earn a living (e.g., Eph 4:28; 1 Thess 4:11; 2 Thess 3:10). But are we working to provide for our family, or are we working for something else? How do we put "being prepared for financial difficulties" alongside "life is more than food, and the body more than clothing" and "why are you anxious about the rest?"? How do we put being diligent to make a good living next to "Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried"? How do we correlate the American Dream with this kind of instruction from our Lord?

Still not clear on this. Not at all. Because it looks like American Christians and, therefore, American Christianity are way off the mark in this regard. And that bothers me.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Made to Worship

I would argue that one of the universal components for the human design is the drive to worship. We were made to worship.

Now, remember, "worship" is defined as basically "worth-ship", assigning great value to something. That which we worship, then, would be the things to which we assign the highest value. And since we are all about assigning value to things, we appear to be born to it. So, we worship lots of things. We worship cars and money, fame and power, "stuff", even "patriotism". We worship people, too. That might be our favorite politician, our favorite entertainment personality, our favorite sports star, or our favorite pastor. It might even be our spouse ... or our kids.

We are in the habit of putting something at the highest value, you see. Most often, of course, that would be "me". We worship self. Starting from the Garden, when Satan told Eve, "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God." (Gen 3:5) That's it, isn't it? "I will make myself like the Most High." (Isa 14:14) I will be my very own God. Second to that, I suppose, would be the "god in my image" version of God.

We weren't made for that, however. Scripture tells us "What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Rom 1:19-20) We were made to worship, and we were made specifically to worship God. Not "god to me" or "whatever I deem to be god". The God revealed in nature and in Scripture; the real God.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that people worship so many strange things. Maybe it's stuff. Maybe it's sex. Maybe it's nonsense. Naturally hostile to God (Rom 8:7), worshiping God goes against the natural Man. So we fill that void with anything else we can. Or, we can fill it with God. He is so much more satisfying than the lies we replace Him with.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Vulnerable to Attack

In Paul's letter to the church at Philippi, he makes his famous statement, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13) This, of course, is not some lame "name it and claim it" scheme. Paul isn't claiming that Christ gives him power to do anything at all. He is speaking specifically, and he tells us what specifically he is speaking about.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Phil 4:11-12)
The "all things" that Christ gives Paul the strength to do is to be content whether in poverty or riches, hungry or full. In all situations, Christ enables Paul to be satisfied.

Isn't it odd, though, that Paul includes the "up-side"? He says that Christ empowers him to be content when he abounds, when he has plenty, when he has abundance. Isn't that strange? I mean, "Um, hey, Paul, do we really need special empowerment from Christ to be satisfied when we're doing well?" Yes ... yes we do.

When they asked one of the richest American men who ever lived, "How much is enough?" he answered, "A little bit more." That's because we are born dissatisfied, it seems. But there is another issue here. I would suggest that humans are perhaps the most vulnerable when they are well off.

Think about it. When times are tough, we knuckle under. We work, we struggle, we even seek God. The old "There are no atheists in foxholes" (whether or not the proverb is true) tells that story. When we're in trouble, we look for help. What about when we're not? Oh, well then, we don't need help. We don't think that we need help. "Don't worry, God, I've got this." And it is precisely then that we have our defenses down and are the easiest targets.

Paul had to learn to be content with much. He had to learn both not to long for more and not to rely on the abundance he had. I think we all have the same problem. I think that this is one of the reasons that the American church is so weak. "Don't worry, God," we tend to think even if we don't admit it, "we've got this." And ... we don't.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fundamentally

The New Republic has a story aptly titled The Silence of the Lambs about a scandalous child sex abuse case in an extremely conservative Baptist missionary organization called the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE). It really is horrific. Young girls under the influence of a charismatic leader in the mission field were seduced, drugged, molested, destroyed. The group -- its leadership and its membership -- sought to cover it up and gloss it over. They blamed the girls and told them so. Lives were destroyed. Justice was canceled. It was awful, truly awful.

The article, however, makes an assumption. The core of the problem in the ABWE was not the man doing the deed or the people involved in the cover up, but the beliefs of the system. "Silence and submission make fundamentalist Christians a ripe target," they tell us. "Fundamentalists preach strict obedience to religious authority." As proof that fundamentalism is the core problem, the article lists four "venerated patriarchs" of "fundamentalism" (as if "fundamentalism" is some sort of organization) -- Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard, Josh Duggar (spelled "Dugger" in the article) and Toby Willis -- who were enmeshed at one time or another in massive sexual misconduct cases. Now, we can scratch our heads and say, "Really? Josh Duggar is a 'venerated patriarch' of 'fundamentalism'?", but that's not the point. Apparently authoritarianism is a main part of "fundamentalism" (I keep putting it in quotes because the article seems to think of it as some monolith of beliefs and structure ... it's not.) The article cites "fundamentalist precepts about the nature of sex and women" as the prime reason that the girls, not the perpetrators, were blamed. And the cover-up itself was a "product of the sprawling, disparate world of Christian fundamentalism." At the core, then, very clearly "fundamentalism" is the problem. The reason there is sex abuse in fundamentalist circles is fundamentalism.

I want to say, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." "Fundamentalism" is defined as "A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles" on the Free Dictionary and as "a religious movement characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts" at dictionary.com. Probably fairly accurate. Since the root of the word is "fundamental", "fundamentalism" would be a strict adherence to fundamentals. Yeah, that's tough to figure out. In the case of Christianity, it would be strict adherence to the fundamentals of what God says. Hey, this isn't that hard. And, yet, it seems to be nigh unto impossible to avoid "It's a hateful belief that all men are lords and masters and all women are to be used and abused and anyone who disagrees ought to be shot." Not in there. In fact, to arrive at that point would be a denial of ... the fundamentals.

You see, the abuse (which does occur) of people, of Scripture, of authority, of privilege, and all that is abuse, not "proper use". Not all "fundamentalists" believe what this author claimed to be basic "fundamentalist" beliefs (such as "authoritarianism", "silence", "strict obedience", or some strange "precepts about the nature of sex and women" that would have a bearing on this discussion). Scripture doesn't support that pastor who did such horrible things to those girls or the leadership that covered it up or the followers who accused the girls rather than the perpetrator. It's not in there. That some abuse God's Word to make you think it is doesn't make it so. That people do it "in the name of God" doesn't make it so. To lay the accusations, then, at the feet of a belief that calls for adherence to basic biblical principles when those basic biblical principles are ignored and tortured and abused themselves is not rational, reasonable, or right.

But, today we've arrived at "rational, reasonable, or right" as something to be ignored. It doesn't feel right, so we're going to stone it to death. And "fundamentalism" becomes an epithet, a disparaging term all by itself. It's a handy way to marginalize the entire question without actually examining the points. Do not think about what the word means. If you hear it, recognize that the person using it is good and kind and the persons or beliefs about which it is being used are evil and horrible. Just look at Josh Duggar or ISIS and you'll see. Fundamentalism is evil. We know this as a fundamental belief!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Psalmist's Progression

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psa 1:1-2)
It's a well-known Psalm. Pretty clear, too. It precludes three things ... well, only really one. It looks like three: walk, stand, sit. It is a progression.

You see a progression in the actions. You start out walking along. Eventually you become comfortable enough to stop, to stand. Eventually it is "home", a place you can sit, relax, be comfortable. The instruction is, then, pretty straightforward; don't make the world of sin your home.

You see a progression in the people. There are the "wicked", the ungodly, the morally disinclined. They become "sinners", the guilty, those who have missed the mark, who have crossed the line. These become scoffers, openly hostile and derisive of God and His ways.

It's important to notice what it does not say. It doesn't say "Don't walk with the wicked" or "Don't stand with a sinner" or "Don't sit with a scoffer." These would miss the point. Paul says, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world." (1 Cor 5:9-10) You see, not associating with them is not the point. They're everywhere. In fact, our calling is to share the gospel with them.

What's the issue, then? It is their counsel, their way, their seat. It is their worldviews, standards, and positions, their behaviors, their hostility toward God and His Word we are not make our own. We see this clearly presented in the contrast. The one who does not do all those things finds his delight in the "the law of the Lord". The word here -- "law" -- is a specific reference to "torah" and a general reference to God's instructions and precepts ... His Word. This is the defining difference. In this, God's Word, the righteous person "meditates day and night." No, not some mystical chanting. Clearly it is "day and night", meaning continual and habitual. It takes time and effort. And ... well ... why not? It is his "delight". Jesus said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:28) Meditating on it makes it part of life, part of existence, part of practice. It is the one-for-one replacement of "walk", "stand", and "sit" -- becoming familiar, comfortable, at home with God's Word, affecting thought and action.

We, of course, are not there in much of our Christian society today. So many of today's professing Christians regard God's Word with suspicion. "You can't be too certain." "You can't be too careful." "You should question authority, including quite specifically the authority of Scripture." So many are drawing their views and values from the counsel of the wicked, taking their stand with way of the sinners and choosing to sit with the scoffers rather than with God's Word.

The rest of the psalm spells out the results for these two paths. The one who finds delight in the Word prospers (Psa 1:3). Those who pursue the alternative, deriving life perspectives and principles from the opposition to God's Word, "are not so" (Psa 1:4). They can expect judgment and destruction in the end. Your choice.