Friday, February 24, 2017

What's the Big Deal?

In June, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States made a momentous decision to redefine life for Americans forever after. How did they do that? They voted to redefine marriage. Consciously. They recognized that the longstanding, traditional definition had always been for all time the union of a man and a woman, but they opted to rewrite that definition to include two people of the same gender. (Why only "two"? Why "people"? No one can say.)

You'd think that would end the question. It's now law. In fact, it's no longer legal to meaningfully disagree. And, still, some of us argue on. Some of us -- you know, Bible-believing Christians and such -- still try to make the point. So what's the big deal? Why go on with this?

As I said before, I'm teaching the book of Ruth. It's a really good story. And it's short! All the better. But there is so much packed in those four chapters. The widow Moabite woman, Ruth, follows her widowed mother-in-law back to Bethlehem. They're trying to make ends meet. Ruth goes and gleans in Boaz's fields. Naomi tells her he's one of her closest relatives. So Ruth, "a woman of excellence" (Ruth 3:11) asks Boaz to redeem her. And he does. Ruth and Boaz marry and they produce Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David, the eventual father of Christ. All good stuff. But Ruth is better than a love story. Ruth is a love story for the ages.

In Ruth we see the concept of the "kinsman-redeemer". It's a Hebrew term from Hebrew law where a close relative can buy a relative in trouble out of trouble. We hyphenate the term ("kinsman-redeemer") because in Hebrew it's one word. The word might be translated "close relative" or "redeemer" ... or both. And the image is unambiguous. Boaz serves as Ruth's "kinsman-redeemer", where he pays the price to redeem her from troubles she has no way of escaping. In so doing, he also buys her as his bride -- that's part of the deal. And the picture is quite robust. Christ became human to be our kinsman so that He could pay the price of redemption when we had no option of getting out of our sin problem and He bought for Himself a Bride, the Church. Paul says, "'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church." (Eph 5:31-32)

We have argued of late against "gay marriage" because that's not a thing. But before that it was the feminists arguing for egalitarianism -- we're all completely equal -- over complementarianism, where the Scriptures teach that the husband is head of the wife (1 Cor 11:3) and the wife and husband are equal in value but complementary in operation, each filling the gaps in the other to make a more whole "one". And before that it was divorce. Is it okay to divorce for any reason? No (Matt 19:3-6). But they pushed through "no-fault divorce" and we buy it more than we should. Before that it was reproduction. Do we really need to "be fruitful and multiply", or can we refuse to bear children with the help of contraception? Hardly a Christian today questions that one. Of course sex is recreational, even for married couples, and bearing children is optional rather than optimal.

But, you see, what we've done over the last half of the 20th century into the 21st is to dismantle every aspect of God's picture. Marriage was designed to be the analogy we could see of Christ's relationship to the Church. He bought her and paid for her. He becomes one with her, together for life. He is her head. Together they reproduce. It is a whole and clear picture. But piece by piece our culture, following their father of lies, has dismantled it and piece by piece we've let them until they arrive at this point where marriage means mostly nothing at all and we go along.

Big deal? Yes, indeed. God's version of marriage gives us a kinsman-redeemer who buys us out of sin, becomes one with us, keeps us for life, and reproduces with us. How many of today's generation see any of that as "marriage"? Take apart biblical marriage and you take apart my Savior, my salvation, my security, my purpose -- my life. It's a really big deal. And we have surrendered time and again. And appear to be doing so today. To our shame.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Jealous God

Scripture, we know, is the Word of God. Some of Scripture is actually God's words. One such place is in Exodus 20 where God is giving Israel the initial covenant that we know as "The Ten Commandments". God speaking says, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." (Exo 20:2) Got it. He goes on to warn against "no other gods in My presence" (Exo 20:3) and against making images to worship (Exo 20:4) and tells why. "You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me ..." (Exo 20:5) In Deut 4:24 we read "The LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." Moses warned the people to destroy their idols saying, "for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (Exo 34:14) So God self-identifies as jealous and Moses says His name is Jealous.

Now, hang on. Isn't jealousy bad? Isn't God ascribing sin to Himself? It might be helpful if we took a look at this concept.

In English, the word can be used synonymously as "envy". But there are other meanings. The root of our word, "jealous", is the Latin for "zealous", and many try to say that it isn't jealousy in view in those passages, but zealousy. Okay, no such word, but you get the idea. He's zealous, not jealous. The Hebrew doesn't help. The root word is qânâ', meaning "zealous" ... or "jealous". Strong's goes on to say that it can be translated as jealous, zealous, or envious. Great! Clear as mud.

Then I came across this. According to vocabulary.com, "Envy is when you want what someone else has, but jealousy is when you're worried someone's trying to take what you have." Oh, now that makes a difference. That provides some distinction. If jealousy is a concern for someone trying to take what is yours, then it is not necessarily sin, is it? We might say, for instance, "I guard my privacy jealously." That's not an evil jealousy. It's not envy. It's simply, "My privacy is mine and I intend to protect it." So to call it sin, you have to answer two questions. First, is it yours? If you are anxious about someone taking what is yours, but it isn't actually yours, then that's not a valid jealousy. Second, is it something you need to guard? Your religious freedom, for instance, may be something that's yours, but a zeal to protect it isn't biblical so intense emotions over it aren't reasonable.

There is, then, a bad jealousy and a good jealousy. Which is it for God? When He claims to be jealous, is He right to do so?

First question: Does it belong to Him? He told Israel, "I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine." (Lev 20:26) We are all, in fact, under God's ownership. As Creator, He is the Owner of everything. Yes, then, everything in general and Israel in particular belong to Him.

Second question: Is He right to zealously guard what is His? Yes, indeed! A spouse is linked ("the two shall become one") to the other half and is right and correct to guard that link. It isn't sin when a spouse is rightly concerned about an intervening person attempting to steal away the partner. God is much, much more than a spouse. He is much more right in jealously guarding what is His.

If this is accurate, the ramifications are large. First, God owns everything. That means your shoes, your home, your car, your family, your life, your freedoms -- everything, including you, belongs to Him. That makes us stewards, not owners, caretakers, not possessors. It ought to change our entire view of things. Second, the idea that He jealously guards what is His ought to give us great comfort. Jealousy a sin? Maybe. But not in God's case. In His case it's a good thing, an excellent thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Enough

John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937), considered the richest American in history, was once asked how much money was enough. He famously replied, "A little bit more." Welcome to American thinking. Well, welcome to human thinking. Most of us are pretty sure that what we really need is "a little bit more." Christians are not immune. Even churches seem to seek "just a little bit more" -- more attendees, more money, more fame, more influence in their world.

So, Christian, how much is "enough"? How much is enough stuff? How much is enough comfort? Conversely, is the smallest pain considered "too much"? How much difficulty is too much difficulty? Paul characterized greed as idolatry (Col 3:5); do we characterize it as good? How much is enough?

John Piper told a group of college students, "I'll tell you what makes Jesus look beautiful. It's when you smash your car, and your little girl goes flying through the windshield, and lands dead on the street ... and you say through the deepest possible pain, 'God is enough.'"

Is God enough?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Your God, My God

I'm teaching on Ruth for the next couple of weeks. (Don't worry. Just a substitute teacher. They normally have a real one.) I was looking at the beginning of the story. A Jewish family moved into Moab because of a famine. Their sons married. Then the father died and the sons died and Naomi was left with two daughters-in-law. She sent them away, but Ruth refused to go.
"Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me."
(Ruth 1:16-17)
I got to thinking about that. Ruth was surely not the first "convert". There were certainly many "sojourners", "foreigners within the gates", people who, though they couldn't join the bloodline of God's chosen people could, at the very least, join their faith. What the New Testament referred to as "God-fearers". So Ruth joined this crowd. "Your God, my God."

I got to thinking about those God-fearers. Do you suppose it was easy for them in Israel? I mean, if you read about Israel in the Old Testament, theirs was a history of idolatry, spiritual adultery, chastisement and exile. Elijah at one point thought he was the last believer and God had to tell him, "I have kept 7,000 men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." (1 Kings 19:18; Rom 11:4) So the pickin's could get pretty slim for fellow believers among God's chosen people. How did those God-fearers do?

Then I got to wondering. What about now? What about in churches with Jesus's name attached? What about among self-professed believers today? How hard is it today for people who come into "the group" because they long for a closer relationship with Christ and look for it among fellow believers? Is that difficult at times? Is it as hard for them as it was for Elijah? I suspect that might be the case.

We represent Christ in the world. We ought to do it carefully and accurately. Starting with love.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Internet Connections

When I was young I had an interest in aircraft. Of particular interest was the fighters and pilots of World War I and World War II. In my readings, I came across a report that in World War II they found that sending young men into the battlefield proved to be tougher than they thought. They could give them guns and train them to shoot at those round targets with some accuracy, but when they put them in the trenches and told them to shoot the people in the other trenches, it became more difficult. You see, at least back then it was easy to shoot a target, but hard to shoot a person. That was why the job of the pilots was so different. They were not shooting people; they were shooting targets. The targets were other planes or buildings, trains, or tank columns on the ground or the like. They didn't look into the faces of the people they had to kill in those planes and such, so it wasn't the same as the soldier in the foxhole. I read about one P-51 pilot involved in a large air battle over Belgium. In the course of the fight he brought his guns to bear on a Heinkel bomber and it burst into flames. The crew bailed out, but the pilot's parachute caught on the tail of the plane and he went down with it. That P-51 pilot looked locked eyes with that other, doomed pilot and was never able to fly in combat again.

Welcome to our world today. This is where we live. Whether driving down the road or cruising the Internet or using your smartphone, we operate in a world largely disconnected from actual people. Oh, we think we're more connected. We aren't. Those cars have drivers and maybe passengers, sure, but we see cars. That tweet was written by a person, of course, but we see words, not people. And our responses, whether it's road rage or an online battle of words, demonstrate that we are not talking to people; we're attacking something else.

The truth is that we are talking to people. We are honking at drivers. We are tweeting those mean things to genuine human beings. We are blasting rude and unkind responses to accounts on Facebook. But like those pilots in war, we just don't see it. So we don't experience the same natural inhibitions that we would if we were face to face. We enjoy the separation, the sense of anonymity, the safety of distance, and we just let fly. Compounding the problem, interaction by car, Twitter, Facebook, and the like is never the same as face to face. There is no nuance, no body language, no tone of voice, no knowing wink. What would have been understood as purely humorous in person is taken as deadly serious when drained and filtered through the Internet. Add to that the Internet troll, people who get their jollies by anonymously going around being rude and unkind just to get a rise out of others, and it's hard to think that our "more connected" world is actually more connected.

Okay, look, I don't like it when people complain without offering anything constructive. "I don't like that" doesn't help anyone. Offer a solution, an alternative, something. So, while it's true that I really don't like how disconnected we've become on our phones and computers thinking all the while that we're more connected, it doesn't do any good just to say that. What, then, do I want? I want believers to take a look at their own practices. I want us to remember that we're called to love. We're told to season our speech with grace (Col 4:6). We are told to defend the faith, but to do so "with gentleness and reverence." (1 Peter 3:15) We are supposed to let our good works show so that God will be glorified (Matt 5:16). Let's see if we can't be more conscious as we do these things in our electronic world and our driving world and any other interactions that we're having interactions with people instead of thinking that a separation from the face is an excuse not to obey Christ. Let's see if we can work on that, okay?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Never Happened

Imagine that your computer goes down from terminal viruses and there's nothing you can do. It will cost more to fix it than to replace it. So you go buy a new one. The day you bring it home you look into and purchase an excellent anti-virus, anti-spam, anti-malware, anti-every-bad-thing-that-can-be-done-to-a-computer piece of software. You install that bad boy and then you start out with your new computer. A year later you get notified that your subscription is up and it's time to pay for the renewal. "Now wait," you might tell yourself, "in all the time I've had this computer I have not once had a problem. It has never gotten a virus, never gotten malware, never glitched, never hiccuped. It has run great. What possible reason would I have for spending that money for another year of that software when I haven't needed it yet." You might. We often do. And, of course, you would be seriously in error. Why? Well, you can see it from here. The reason your computer has run so smoothly all this time was that software. It's just that the absence of problems masks that fact.

We do that with God. "Dear God, help me! I'm in trouble." And the trouble vanishes. "Oh, never mind, God; I've got this." Worse, we never notice (because, honestly, we can't) the problems that don't occur. That red light just when you were in a hurry that, had you been in that intersection at that moment someone would have run the light and hit you. The job you would have hated that you don't get hired for. The spouse that would have made your life miserable but you didn't marry. All sorts of things you never knew because God was at work.

It's difficult to remember to be grateful for the things we're aware of that God has done for us. It's nearly impossible to remember to be grateful for the things He's done that we never knew. But don't be fooled. That's a long, long list of things. Don't think that you're doing all this on your own. And don't ignore what He does just because it's not obvious. Instead, "in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thess 5:18) Oh, and go ahead and renew that subscription.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

News Weakly - 2/18/2017

You Keep Using That Word ...
"Fighting for their family," the article begins. How heroic! "Stop prosecuting consenting adults," he begged. Sounds reasonable, right? It's actually a protest in Utah against an unfair law that would keep polygamy illegal in that state. Polygamy is illegal in all 50 states, but apparently Utah is the important one. It is classified as a third-degree felony. So when Kody Brown, the Sister Wives husband who admits on national television to violating this nationwide law, declares, "I'm a father, a husband, and a lover, not a felon", he does so thanks to today's standard of redefining words. Just as a person who comes into this country against the law would be classified as an "illegal alien", a polygamist would have to be classified as a felon. But thanks to our modern language where "I get to define the words you use" (like "human", "murder", "marriage", "illegal"), Brown is not a felon. And thanks to the ardent efforts of anti-marriage forces intent on redefining marriage to mean something ... else ... there is no basis for defense against polygamy, polyamory, or anyone who might wish to marry their pet or their fence. On the other hand, the law has not, of late, been known to be rational, so I can't predict where this will end up.

Trump's Travel Ban
I was not aware of a travel ban by President Trump, but apparently it's real. A school district in Canada (Windsor, Canada, is just south of Detroit, believe it or not) has canceled all field trips to the U.S. because of "President Trump's travel ban." Now, the only "travel ban" I can imagine they're referring to is the one that temporarily blocked people from seven Middle East countries from coming in until they could fix the vetting process ... the one that was overturned by the court. So that one doesn't block anyone from Canada, doesn't effect Canada, and doesn't exist.

This is the product of "fake news" ... what we call "mainstream media".

By Whose Definition?
Republicans voted to block a regulation from Obama's administration that would prevent people with mental disorders from buying guns. Now, on the face of it, we might be ready to ask, "What??!! How can you favor selling guns to mental cases?" It's not that simple. First, "The regulation was crafted as part of President Barack Obama's efforts to strengthen the federal background check system in the wake of the 2012 massacre of 20 young students and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut." Contrary to popular belief, a rule like this would have made not one difference in the Sandy Hook shooting. That atrocity was perpetrated by a guy with mental problems who illegally procured the weapons from the mother he killed to do so. Second, Republicans were concerned about the vagueness of the law, not fitting into "the federal mentally defective standard."

I'm not sure what I conclude on it. On one hand, passing a gun law that doesn't address the problem it is intended to fix is foolish. On the other hand, preventing people with mental problems from buying weapons makes sense. On the other hand, using terms like "assault weapons" and "mental disorders" sound like clear-cut terms, but they're not in the least. And since we've demonstrated a clear lack of interest in defining and maintaining the definitions of terms, I'm not sure it makes sense to ban "assault weapons" and purchases by people with "mental disorders" when they can mean "any weapon that can be used to assault someone" and "people who don't agree with me." Nail down some real definitions, and I'll be better able to come up with an opinion. When the Left can assure me that it cannot mean, "We don't allow Republicans to buy baseball bats" I'll reconsider.

A Day Without Immigrants
Thursday was "celebrated" as the National Day Without Immigrants where immigrants everywhere stayed home from work to show how important immigrants are to the American economy. The story said it was "aimed squarely at President Trump's efforts to step up deportations, build a wall at the Mexican border and close the nation's doors to many travelers." Because any attempt at protecting this nation or protecting borders from illegal crossings is an attempt at eliminating immigrants everywhere.

Come on, America, you can think better than this, can't you? Can't you? What concerns me is that the correct answer is "No" and this is the best we're going to get. Saying the, "The Bible says that homosexual behavior is a sin" is not saying, "I hate gays." Saying that "Marriage throughout human history has been the union of a man and a woman" is not saying, "I would like to outlaw homosexuals everywhere." Pointing out that there are two genders, male and female, is not the equivalent of hating transsexuals. And wishing to keep our borders secure from illegal entry like every other nation does is not "anti-immigrant."

Comparing Evils
Good news: Michael Flynn, going in as National Security Adviser, has resigned after having been outed as lying about his conversations with Russia. We don't need or want a lying National Security Adviser in Washington. Bad News: It was accomplished by "anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats" committing "political assassination." It was accomplished by monitoring phone calls from Flynn and then leaking them. It was accomplished by illegal means.

President Trump's policies and actions have, to many, been unwise and unfair, but they have not been classified as illegal. His opponents, on the other hand, are leaking secret government data to the public. So on one hand we have "unwise and unfair" and on the other "illegal". You'll have to decide which is worse. You might not want to wait to decide that until after they've illegally tapped your phone and released your private conversations.

Say No to Religious Freedom
It should not come as a surprise, but Barronelle Stutzman, the 72-year-old grandmother who had no problem providing flowers to gays but refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding lost her case in the Washington State Supreme Court case. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is planning to take it to the Supreme Court. The ACLU is expecting Stutzman to surrender all of her business and personal assets except for her home. The conclusion at this point is that the First Amendment is subjugated to "civil rights" where yours don't count as much if you're a Christian.

Our Anti-Immigrant President
It had to happen. Based on Trump's widespread distrust of all things alien, He has deported the Statue of Liberty. Must be true; I read it in the Internet.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Philosophy

Paul's epistle to the church at Colossae is an interesting letter. He wrote it because of the gnosticism there, a philosophy of "higher knowledge" that argued that they knew better than Scripture. Paul wrote,
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Col 2:8)
Now, you might be tempted to think that you would be able to easily see "philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition", but Paul was writing "that no one may delude you with plausible arguments." (Col 2:4) So it would appear that Paul thought that these philosophies would sound plausible and they (we) might be deceived by them. It is my suspicion that many of us today have failed to heed this warning.

What kind of deceitful philosophies from human tradition might we encounter? Well, there was once the notion that men are the most important gender; women are the least important. In this overbearing patriarchal mode (still found in many places in the world today), men were allowed to lord it over women and women were without options. Over against this we find the biblical philosophy that says that men and women are of equal value (Gen 9:6), that men are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Eph 5:25-30) and to treat them with understanding and honor (1 Peter 3:7). Not the same thing.

Today's society, overrun as it is with radical feminism, has offered a new philosophy. Men are the least important gender; women are the most important gender. Equal error in the opposite direction. According to Scripture, "the head of a wife is her husband" (1 Cor 11:3), fathers are responsible for their children (Eph 6:4; Col 3:21), and wives are to submit to their husbands as they would to Christ (Eph 5:22-24; 1 Peter 3:1-6). Not the same thing.

Very popular today is the philosophy that people are basically good. It's a friendly philosophy and some people are appalled that anyone would disagree (despite all the evidence to the contrary). This philosophy based on human thinking is the source of all sorts of errors such as redefining marriage, redefining child-rearing, and removing sexual immorality from the list of sins. "It's not wrong if we love each other." The Bible, on the other hand, claims that all have sinned (Rom 3:23), that all are born sinners (Psa 51:5; Rom 5:12), and that, in fact, "no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:12) In short, the biblical philosophy on the subject is that people are basically evil.

A lot of people are convinced today that morality is defined by that which causes harm. It doesn't matter that this is an incoherent notion. It isn't immoral, for instance, for two consenting adults to engage in sadomasochistic activities, defined as harm. It is immoral for two consenting people to engage in the same activities if one of them is 17 years old. How does this work? Further, can we really tell what "harm" is? How many "good" things have we discovered actually does harm in the long run? Still, that's the basic definition of morality for many. Scripture defines morality in terms of what God commands and what He forbids. The creature doesn't get to override the Creator on these things. Philosophy and empty deceit according to human tradition would disagree.

So far I'd guess you've been nodding your head and saying, "Yeah, I can see that." Here's one that might not go as well. Have you bought a philosophy according to human tradition rather than according to God's Word on the subject of marriage? The Bible indicates that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman (Gen 2:24) for purposes of mutual support (Gen 2:18) and procreation (Gen 1:28). Our world does not. I mean, in almost no way does our world allow for any of that. They might agree to "union" and limit it to "two people", but that's about it. And the "union" that they admit to is a totally soluble one, where the biblical version is "one flesh" -- dissoluble. Yet I know that Christians have bought into the idea that procreation is a personal thing and there's no reason to think that it should be for everyone (or, at least, for almost everyone). They disagree that it is for life, citing all sorts of exceptions from adultery on down through irreconcilable differences. In fact, Christians have so largely embraced our world's shifted version of marriage that the step from where they are to "two people, not just man and a woman" that just occurred in the courts a couple of years ago is a pretty small step. Deceitful philosophy according to human tradition, not Scripture. And we've been taken captive by it. Why? Because it sounded so plausible.

How about this one? I know that all of us suffer from this one to some degree. What is the purpose of life? The world tells us it is, bottom line, primarily to enjoy ourselves. Christianity says we should be good while we enjoy ourselves. You will find, in fact, a sort of "sanctified hedonism" that says, "God wants us to be happy, so we really ought to do what makes us feel good." Even "God owes us that." Scripture says the primary purpose of all creation, us included, is to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31; Rom 11:36) and to enjoy Him (Psa 73:24-26; John 17:22, 24). Do you see the vast difference? Do you see how everything changes between the philosophy according to human traditions and the biblical version here? Our world hinges on my pleasures, my comfort, my preferences, my desires. The biblical version hinges on God's glory and aligning my life to enjoy Him. And, yet, we Christians constantly run up against these two, complaining about God's failure to make us more comfortable or keep us from difficulty and seeking our own pleasures rather than passionately seeking His glory. Why? Well, to be honest, the former sounds a lot more plausible than the latter. It's just not the right one. So we find ourselves taken captive by deceitful, human philosophy.

Noah Webster's dictionary from 1828 includes this in its definition of "philosophy":
... philosophy is a general term denoting an explanation of the reasons of things; or an investigation of the causes of all phenomena both of mind and of matter ... The objects of philosophy are to ascertain facts or truth, and the causes of things or their phenomena; to enlarge our views of God and his works, and to render our knowledge of both practically useful and subservient to human happiness.

True religion and true philosophy must ultimately arrive at the same principle.
Can you imagine that? "The objects of philosophy are ... to enlarge our views of God and his works ..." Go figure. Today's Merriam-Webster simply defines it as "all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts." Noah Webster's version, where philosophy and true religion arrive at the same place, is a reference to philosophy not from human tradition. Merriam-Webster's version is in line with the philosophy that Paul warns against. Be careful not to find yourself deluded by plausible arguments.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Immigration Query

At a protest against Trump after the most recent ban on Muslims from America (which, if you're not paying attention, never happened) some protesters carried signs saying, "No ban, no wall!" (Okay, maybe there was no exclamation mark, but you get the idea.) Now, we can discuss all over the place whether or not there should be a wall and we can debate at length whether there actually was a "ban on Muslims" or whether it's wise to remove all limitations, or whether or not all ideas that Trump has are, by definition, evil, but that's not where I'm headed here. What I want to know is from the protesters. What is it you want?

It appears to me that the emotion, demagoguery, and rhetoric of this particular, loud side is calling for no limits. Not "no wall", but "no boundaries", where "no wall" is just "no wall or any other lines". The 84 Lumber commercial that Fox refused to air for Super Bowl LI appeared to suggest that it is heroic and beautiful for people to travel long distances to come into America illegally and for us to stop them isn't fair, isn't kind, isn't right. The hero of that commercial was the 84 Lumber guy who made sure to negate the entire purpose of a border and immigration laws by putting in a large, easily accessed, unregulated gate. Yea for him! Really?

Now, let me be clear. I am in favor of immigration. The president of 84 Lumber said that the point was that there should be a "big door" in the "wall" to allow people that want to come to America to work, to join, to be productive citizens, that kind of thing. I say, "Yes!" And I am not opposed to improving immigration laws. I say, "Do it!" I will go further. If the government one day passed a law that the requirement to come into this country was to get across the border and, by the way, we're taking down all impediments to that pursuit, I would have no complaints about illegal immigrants in this country. Because, you see, I am in favor of immigration. I am opposed to illegal immigration. No, wait, I can make this easier. I am opposed to illegal -- that which violates the law -- when the law doesn't violate commands from Christ. And there are no commands from Christ on the subject of who can live in what country.

So I'm asking the protesters, is that what you want? Is the aim to eliminate all borders? Or, at least, all American borders? (No one is protesting the restrictive immigration laws for Mexico, Great Britain, Australia, or any others, it seems. Just America.) And if so, are you willing to do the same in your personal life? No borders? "Come on in! My house is your house; my stuff is yours." Or do you practice walls and borders in your personal life and just don't want this country to do the same thing on a national level? Is this just another shot at enforced wealth redistribution on a worldwide scale? Now, I know none of those protesters read my blog. I'm not expecting an answer. I'm just wondering.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Musing

I'm just thinking aloud here, so to speak. Relativism is king these days. Morality is relative. Words are relative. Reality is relative. These things are whatever you think they are. It's all good.

So why is it that, while morality and definitions and reality are all whatever you think they are, people are quite certain that they are not what Christians think they are. "I think that I'm a male trapped in a female body." "Good for you!" "I think I'm a female trapped in a male body." "Embrace the real you!" "I think that there are only two genders -- male and female." "Hater!" Just an example.

For Christians morality and reality are indeed relative -- relative to what God says is moral and true. Why is it that every other morality is embraced and celebrated and Christian morality is despised? Isn't this a bit contradictory? I mean, is it or is it not relative?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Empty Calories

The grandkids offered this little treat to their grandma for Valentine's Day. Very nice. Very sweet. If you looked at the basket of goodies attached to the stuffed owl, you'd see what looked like a very sweet treat, in fact. A good sized box full of chocolates.
That is, until you read the nutritional label. Take a look.

"Serving Size: 4 pieces. Number of Servings: 2"

Interesting. So the 8 or so pieces of candy you see at the top of this "pile" of goodies in the box are all there is. It is completely empty underneath. Nothing at all. Empty space. It looks all sweet and generous and all, but underneath it's useless ... at best.

So much like sin. Looks sweet. Promises big things. Even tugs at the heart strings. But underneath it's hollow, empty, worse than useless. The Valentine box will contribute to bad health. Sin will contribute to spiritual death. And yet we are happy to pursue both. Enraptured by the surface appearance, we find ourselves robbed in the end. We are offered Christ and all He has, but we're satisfied with a few pieces of candy and a stuffed doll because it looks so tempting.

Jesus said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) The picture is of the thief. I recommend the abundant life.



Monday, February 13, 2017

Galileo v the Church

Today is the anniversary of Galileo's conviction for heresy in 1633. The story is one of the popular "See? Science and religion are opposed" arguments. That nasty, narrowminded church locked him up in a deep dark prison for his science. Turns out the popular story isn't necessarily the accurate story. It might be enlightening to find out the truth. It appears we're still doing it today.

Definitions

We are debating almost daily about the definitions of terms. More accurately, the definitions of ideas. You know how it goes. Normal people think "There is male and there is female" and we come to find out that those are only two choices of a possible 50 or more and if you limit it to binary gender you're just a hater. Huh? We think that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and we find out that it's some sort of close relationship between (two) people apparently. (The "two" is in parenthesis because it is the current requirement, although nothing in the current argument for it supports or requires "two" ... or even "people".) Some people think that "equality" means "of the same value" or "having the same opportunities", but apparently it is more at "the same". People used to think that "family" was defined by blood or legal relationships, but many today commonly believe that their favorite pets and even good friends are just as much "family" now. The federal government defines the fetus in the womb as "human" ... unless its mother wants to kill it. It's all very confusing.

We're long past the days of the prescriptive dictionary. Webster wrote his in the 19th century to define words. That is, "This is a reference work. If you want to know what a word means, look here. If you think it means otherwise, you're wrong." No longer. Now they're descriptive. "This is a representative work. We've tried to gather the various meanings that people assign to the words in our language. It is always a work in progress. Good luck with it." Language, like morality and reality, is apparently relative. So are the meanings behind the words.

So where do I go to get my definitions? There are a variety of sources, to be sure, but I'm really interested in the important things at the moment, things like "male and female", "marriage", and "human". Where do I go to get these definitions? I mean, no one is contending much about "red" or "pizza", but there is very nearly a battle over "life".

My preference, when I can get it, is to use a biblical definition. You know, what did God say? How does God define things? For instance, we read, "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Gen 1:27) It doesn't take a super genius to figure out that God is operating on a binary gender system. They weren't "malish" and "femalish". They were "either/or", not "both/and" ... or any other combination you might think of. So I define gender by one of two modes -- male or female. So I don't recognize the growing numbers of possible genders offered in various places in our culture as valid. I'm not saying it's immoral; I'm saying it is outside of the definition of the idea of gender.

Lots of people are free to define marriage however they want. I am not. We have a biblical definition. "A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Gen 2:24) This clearly defines marriage from God's perspective as the union into a family of a man and a woman for life (because "one flesh" makes "two fleshes again" impossible) for mutual support (Gen 2:18) and procreation (Gen 1:28). Now, people are certainly free to define it (or, currently, to fail to define it) however they wish. I will just point out that mine is based on Scripture and the rest are ... not. Those without regard for Scripture will see no problem there, but I think that it should be abundantly clear that I am not free to define it any other way. I'm not saying it's immoral; I'm saying that other possibilities are outside of the definition of the idea of marriage.

Consider another. "Human" is "made in the image of God" (Gen 9:6) and Scripture clearly refers to the unborn as human (e.g., Psa 139:13-15; Jer 1:5; Luke 1:41-44). I don't get to define a fetus as a "tissue blob" just because women would like to be free to kill them.

Just some examples. The point here is not that everyone must agree with my definitions. The point is that 1) they aren't my definitions -- they're from God's Word -- and 2) I have no option to play fast and loose with terms defined by God. In postmodern relativism where words mean whatever you want them to (although most are quite sure they don't mean what I say they mean) and reality is defined by how we feel, I cannot expect rational living or reasonable thinking. I'm just unwilling to live or think that way myself.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

All Glory to God

In Ezekiel God promised to return His people from exile and more.
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules. (Eze 36:24-27)
We recognize some of that as a promise not just for Israel, but for all God's people. The question I want to ask, though, is why? Why did God promise to free Israel and give His people a new heart and His Spirit. He doesn't leave that for conjecture. "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came." (Eze 36:22)

We Christians revel in the grace of our Lord. Rightly so. His is truly amazing grace. But we often forget the purpose of His grace. We think "Jesus loves me" and "Jesus died for me", but these fall short. The purpose of His grace and His love for us and His dying on our behalf was not us. We were not the object. It is all for His glory. We are chosen in Him before the foundation of the world "to the praise of His glorious grace" (Eph 1:4-6). We have obtained an inheritance in Him "so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory." (Eph 1:11-12) In fact, the reason we heard the word of truth and believed in Him and were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit was for "the praise of His glory." (Eph 1:11-12)

We ought indeed to appreciate His love and His mercy. We certainly should celebrate His absolutely amazing grace and kindness. But we must always keep before us His intention in doing all He does for us. It is not about us; it is about Him.
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory, for the sake of Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness! (Psa 115:1)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

News Weakly - 2/11/2017

Honor Your Father
You know the story parents tell their children. They take the dog to the pound and then tell the kids, "We took Rover to a farm to live where he'll be much happier." In suburbia, unknown numbers of animals are taken out and dropped off just to get rid of them. "It's someone else's problem now."

Taking this idea to heart, a California couple took the husband's father who suffered from Alzheimer's on a nice trip to England ... and left him there. They knew that the U.K. had free medical care and left him for someone else to take care of. They finished off their vacation and went home.

Sad, sad story.

Not Us!
Bill O'Reilly, interviewing the president, wondered how he could work with Putin. "He's a killer." Trump replied, "What do you think? Our country's so innocent?" Trump's reply has garnered outrage. "There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers." How dare he? How can he compare us to those ... those dirty Ruskies? I mean, look, Stalin by force and cruelty secretly killed some 65 million people. Not us. We've only killed 50 million babies openly with the protection of law and the applause of the public. We're much better than they are. Oh ... wait ... hey, can we change the subject?

It doesn't make Trump right or better (because I'm pretty sure he wasn't thinking about dead babies), but we have a tendency to lose perspective, don't we? What they do is evil, but not us! We might need to check our eye for logs.

Those Evil Crisis Pregnancy Centers
I was reading a story about the evils of Planned Parenthood (from a news outlet that favored Planned Parenthood) and how the accusations were all lies. They warned about the "questionable alternatives". I thought, "Questionable alternatives?" So I found out what they were talking about. Planned Parenthood warns women about "so-called 'crisis pregnancy centers.'" That's their phrase. They claim, "These are fake clinics run by people who are anti-abortion." Huh. Go figure. Did you know that these centers may not include information about abortion? Did you know that these centers may not give you unbiased information? Did you know that these groups may encourage you not to have an abortion?

The problem, apparently, is that they don't offer "unbiased information and a full range of health services." Like "One of your options is to murder your child." "Health" services like that. Dirty, rotten "Crisis Pregnancy Centers". Not unbiased and full service like Planned Parenthood. (You know, now that I think about it, I don't think I've ever heard of a pregnant woman going to Planned Parenthood to have their baby adopted. Odd.)

On a related note, has anyone else considered this strange line of thinking? Women are told that they have a choice in an unwanted pregnancy -- abortion, adoption, or parenting. Okay, so "parenting" is normal; they raise the child. I get adoption; they don't feel they can and let someone else do it. But given the choice of "Am I comfortable having someone else raise this child or would I rather kill it?", I don't understand the choice of the latter at all. "Yeah, this baby is much better off dead." What?

Just Cruzin'
Can you believe this Ted Cruz guy? He had the audacity -- the hatefulness -- to declare that the Ku Klux Klan came from Democrats. What's wrong with him? Doesn't he know that ... let's see ... the Klan was "acting as the military arm of the Democratic Party"? Oh ... wait. That the KKK was Democratic Party's continuation of the Confederacy. No, no, hold on. In the 19320's and 30's "the Klansmen were Democrats." Oh, now, doggone it! What's wrong with Wikipedia? Here, let's look at History.com. That should be less confusing. Turns out that they, too attribute the Ku Klux Klan to the Democrats. In fact, turns out the the Democrats opposed the abolition of slavery at all.

Oh, now, see? That sneaky Cruz fellow, working in facts with his propaganda to embarrass the party that applauds aborting more black babies than ... oh, now, there we go again, inserting inconvenient truths that look bad for Democrats. No one actually thinks that will work, do they?

The Headline Says It All
Okay, it's Germany, but you know it could be here, too. The headline says it all: "German nursery rhyme about fox who steals a goose banished from town after complaint from vegan." Apparently, "The instrumental version of the tune was being played as one of a repertoire of 33 songs on the town hall's mechanical glockenspiel." A vegan woman who worked nearby was offended because she knew there was a line in the children's tune that said "the hunter will get you With his gun." She was offended. End of story.

When you find something that doesn't offend anyone at all, let me know. I'm not sure it exists. And when we've arrived at "no one should ever be offended for any reason", we're at an end.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Blindspot

Of all my blog entries over the years the one titled Hard Sayings - "Sell all your possessions" is by far the most read (over 25,000 hits since they started counting in 2010) of all time. I'm still getting comments on it. Generally negative, you can imagine. It is, after all, a favorite point for skeptics who will tell us, "See? You don't obey Jesus, so why tell us to?" Or something like it.

I argued in that piece that Jesus was not proclaiming that all believers in all times in every way need to always sell all their possessions. The clearest proof of that is found in the fact that Jesus had possessions. Not much, to be sure. But He did have a robe that was too special to destroy when He died (John 19:23-24). Further, the disciples still had homes and boats, for instance. (Fishing boats, not pleasure boats.) So the command, I said, was not an all-encompassing, all-inclusive, overriding instruction for all believers; it was a principle. The principle is this: Own nothing. That is, surrender it all to Christ and let Him do with it what He pleases. The principle is "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:34) So, yes, we give up all possessions (Luke 14:33), but that doesn't necessarily require all believers to be homeless wayfarers in rags (because rags are possessions, aren't they?).

Here's the problem. The minute I tell Christians, "It's okay; you don't have to sell all your possessions," it seems as if the response is, "Whew! We don't have to do anything about that command." And that would be a mistake. First, Paul was not sparing when he warned, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Tim 6:10) (John Piper has an interesting article about whether or not the love of money is actually the root of all evils or just "all kinds of evil".) He warned Timothy to "flee these things" (1 Tim 6:11) because "godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Tim 6:6) And, of course, Jesus was clear. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." "No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (Luke 16:13) We must not find ourselves in these categories and assure ourselves that what Christ forbade we allow. At the same time, wealth by itself isn't evil. It can be used to God's glory. Generosity is even a gift of the Spirit (Rom 12:8). No, the problem is not wealth by itself; the problem is worship. Do we worship the wealth or the Provider? Do we seek wealth or seek to serve?

So we're back to the serious question. Sure, sure, we'll set aside that overly-broad "Sell it all!!!" But we will also push back on the "I want it all!!" The question is one of worship. Where is your worship? If we will not surrender our goods, the Bible speaks poorly of us (1 John 3:17). We don't want to be there. And I am convinced that most American Christians live there. (I count myself an American and a Christian.) We ought to examine ourselves. I suspect this is a blindspot for many of us.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Testing Faith

How can I know if I'm saved? I am not going to ask, "How can I know if you are saved?" or "How can you know if I am saved?" I'm just pursuing the question, "Is there any way that I can have some assurance that I am among the elect, that I am a genuine believer, that I am not among the 'many' who will come in front of the Judge believing I actually was saved only to be told, 'I never knew you'?" I don't want any of the people that I love to believe they're saved only to find out they're not, and I certainly don't want to find myself in that boat. So what am I to do?

John wrote his first epistle "that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13) From that I would assume that there is some way to ... you know ... know that you have eternal life. So what is it? Paul said, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves." (2 Cor 13:5) Apparently there is a way. I would argue that it's what the Bible says. Now that's kind of broad, so let's see if I can offer some constructive measures by which any individual can know if he or she is or is not a genuine believer. I will stress that I am not offering any input on figuring out if someone else is. That's not our job. What kind of hints do we find in the pages of Scripture to help us obtain some guidance, some assurance, or some correction?

Well, John's first epistle is full of "test questions". He contrasts "walk in the light" with "walk in darkness" (1 John 1:5-7), confession of sins (1 John 1:8-10), obedience to His commandments (1 John 2:3-6; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9-10; 1 John 5:2-3), love (1 John 2:7-11; 1 John 3:10-18; 1 John 3:23-24; 1 John 4:19-21), not loving the world (1 John 2:15), remaining in the faith (1 John 2:19), confessing the Son (1 John 2:22-23; 1 John 4:15), adherence to historical doctrines (1 John 2:24-25) (the faith once for all delivered to the saints - Jude 1:3), learning the truth from the Spirit (1 John 2:27) (which, by the way, would entail receiving the same truth as others who are taught by the Spirit, not contradictory truth), inability to practice sin (1 John 3:1-9), assured by our hearts (1 John 3:19-22); believe the Scriptures (1 John 4:5-6), and possessing the Spirit (1 John 4:13) (I told you it was full of test questions.)

As for having the Spirit, Paul offers a helpful "test". "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Gal 5:22-23) Paul contrasts this with "the works of the flesh" (Gal 5:16-17). So there is that to examine.

Peter says to "be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election" (2 Peter 1:10) and gives a list of qualities that should be yours and increasing (2 Peter 1:5-7). The author of Hebrews speaks of the discipline of God. "For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." (Heb 12:6) (Note that the "chastises" in that verse references "scourges" -- the use of pain -- rather than mere teaching.) Lest you wonder if the reverse is true, he makes it clear. "If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." (Heb 12:8) So if you say, "The Lord never scourges me," you have something more to consider.

We have a sure and certain starting place. When the Philippian jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?", Paul answered, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:30-31) Faith is the starting place, predicated on the grace of God and not works (Eph 2:8-9). Jesus said, "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18) Repent (Acts 2:38) and believe; that's where it starts. So those who have not believed are certainly not saved. But since we know that many will come to Christ in the final judgment mistakenly thinking they were "in" and find out they were not (Matt 7:21-23), it seems like it would be wise for each of us to examine ourselves (you know ... like Paul said) to see if we are in the faith, or if we have been mistaken. It isn't a minor question. And we aren't without resources to answer it. Don't go about examining anyone else, but you should surely make your calling and election sure. Solid assurance is a good thing.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Self-Sufficient

All parents aim to bring their kids up to be responsible adults. Some better than others, sure, but there has to be something of that in every parent-child relationship. We want them to learn to "stand on your own two feet", to be brave and strong and ... you know, all those good things. We would like them to be self-sufficient. It is, after all, the American Dream, isn't it?

I wonder how much the "American Dream" has messed up American Christianity. That kind of thinking, at least. We seek to "stand on your own two feet", to "live the dream", to "do it my way." We think that if we imagine and believe and work and persevere we can get almost anything we want ... and that's a good thing.

Paul said, "I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13) Not "on my own". He told the Philippians "It is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) Not you. Proverbs says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding." (Prov 3:5) Not "in yourself" and not your own understanding.

James tells us that our friendship with the world is hostility toward God -- spiritual adultery (James 4:4). He goes on to say, "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us." (James 4:5) Now, think about that one. Here we are, intending to "make it on our own", to "be my own person", to tough it through, and Christ has given us His Spirit ... to dwell in us. What are we doing?? Why do we settle for so little? He gives us so much and all we want to do is use our own broken, misguided, deceitful, sinful resources. What's wrong with us?

But we do it. And we applaud those who do. The church that adopts more entertaining, more popular, more up-to-date, more worldly-marketing style worship and programs is a success. The church that leans on Christ and His power is "on the wrong side of history". We American Christians in particular buy the comfort and luxury of our culture over the "go into all the world and make disciples" command of Christ. We salve our consciences with, "That's someone else's job."

There is a story in 2nd Kings when the Arameans were besieging Dothan. People were starving to death. But Elisha promised that food would come the next day (2 Kings 6:8-7:2). As it turned out, four lepers outside the gates decided to give themselves up to the enemy, so they went out to surrender. God made the sound of those four to sound like an army to the Arameans and they ran for their lives. The four lepers found a deserted camp filled with food and riches (2 Kings 7:3-8). There they were, indulging in rich food, rich clothes, rich riches, and one of them thinks of the people starving in the city and says, "We do not well." (2 Kings 7:9) Brothers and sisters, we do not well. People in our own backyards and around the world are dying without Christ. We have come across incalculable riches -- the very resources and power of God -- that we did not provide but are now ours. And we're just playing with them instead of sharing them.

Self-sufficient? It doesn't actually exist. "In Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (Col 1:17) Self-sufficient? Why, when we have Christ?
If you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:1-3)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

John vs Jake

I'm going to discuss Calvinism versus Arminianism. I am not, however, planning to defend one ... or the other. I think we've heard these terms bandied about for so long that we no longer understand them at all. But ... we've heard them so we're pretty sure we do. All very confusing. So let's take a moment to straighten this much out.

After the days of John Calvin (1509-1564), a Dutch theologian by the name of Jacobus Arminius was teaching in Amsterdam (1591). Arminius had previously been tasked with a defense of the doctrine of predestination and was quite aware of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, a four-volume systematic theology. At some point Arminius started arguing in his classes against some of Calvin's work -- against the standard Protestant Reformed theology of the day. Actually, he argued against 5 points out of the entire theological system. I point that out to indicate that there was a vast amount of agreement, lest we focus too much on the differences. The Amsterdam government required that he not teach things contrary to Reformed theology, and that was it for awhile. He was later called to Leiden University and the controversy escalated. Arminius died in 1609 with the debate still raging. In 1610 a group of Dutch Protestants who agreed with Arminius filed a grievance, so to speak. The formal name was remonstrance, and it was the method by which disagreements with the Church could be addressed. This group filed the Five Articles of Remonstrance:

- The divine decree of predestination is conditional, not absolute.
- The Atonement is, in intention, universal.
- Man can of himself exercise a saving faith.
- Though the grace of God is a necessary condition of human effort, it does not act irresistibly in man.
- Believers are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace.

The Dutch Reformed Church, in response, called a synod, a gathering of church leaders to meet and determine the validity of the remonstrance. They met in Dordrecht and held the Synod of Dordt from 1618-1619. The group consisted of 39 pastors and 18 ruling Elders from the Belgic churches, 5 professors from the universities of Holland, 19 delegates from the Reformed churches in Germany and Switzerland, and 5 professors and bishops from Great Britain. (France was invited but opted not to attend.) They held 154 sessions and other side conferences. They finally produced a document called the Canons of Dordt:

- God's predestination is not conditioned on anything in Man.
- The Atonement is not unlimited; it is particular.
- Natural Man is born a sinner and is depraved to the core.
- Man, depraved to the core, can only be regenerated if God overcomes his will.
- God will cause to persevere all whom He regenerates and saves.

These five points have become known as "the Five Points of Calvinism". The truth is that "Calvinism" was a term applied by Lutherans to designate those in the Reformation who differed with them (essentially) on the Eucharist (whether or not Christ's body was actually present) and the use of God's law for believers. Calvin himself despised and rejected the term. But these five points are the issues today that designate what we call "Calvinism" even if they didn't come about until long after Calvin was dead.

So, in the end, the issue is not John Calvin versus Jacobus Arminius. Neither Calvin nor Arminius took their positions on their own. Both took them from Scripture. Some people will try to eliminate the discussion by claiming that one or the other got their lousy theology from some bad people in the past -- Calvin from Augustine and Arminius from Pelagius. That's nothing more than an ad hominem argument, suggesting the source is bad while ignoring both the source (Scripture) and the argument. The other option not on the table is "I am neither." On each point you may agree or disagree with one or the other, but you're going to have to come up with a strange position if you say "neither". "Is Arminius right about his claim that God's choice of who is saved is conditional or not?" "Neither." See? Doesn't work.

There has been so much debate and confusion over both sides of these issues that I thought I'd lay them out more succinctly so you can decide better where you stand apart from names ("Calvinism" or "Arminianism") or dodges ("I'm neither."). I'll let you examine that on your own. Generous, ain't I?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Confused Christianity

For a major portion of my Christian life one of my biggest concerns and prayers have been for the Christians who aren't. We don't have to name names. I wouldn't want to try. But you know the type. They go to church or went to church. They often call themselves Christians. They're often quite sure they are. They may even be really nice people. But there's something ... missing. Something absent. They don't seem to actually have a living, active relationship with the living Christ. It's more of a system or even an unconscious thing with them. They nod and they go through the motions and all, but you can't really say that there is the Spirit of God residing in that person. It's not a sure thing, of course. I mean, each of us feels spiritually drab at times. You may just have some nagging concern at the back of your mind. "Do you really know Jesus?" And it's not a judgmental thought; it's a genuine concern for the well-being of someone you care about.

I'm convinced that there are a lot of people these days that believe themselves to be Christians and go through the motions and say the right things that don't actually know Christ. It's not actually my idea. It was Jesus who said, "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" (Matt 7:22-23) See that? "Many". Now, you know they didn't think they were going to pull a fast one on Jesus. No, they actually believed they were "in". But they aren't. It is possible to think you're saved and be saved. It is possible to think you're not saved and not be saved. It is possible to be saved but not think you are. But by far the most difficult category is the one that is filled with people who think they are saved, but they're not.

These people are in our churches and in our lives. We care about them deeply. They may be blood relatives or good friends. And anyone who has a heart would be concerned that anyone they love would know Christ. But this group is a special problem. We can share the gospel with the unsaved and it is new to them at least in some sense. But this group has heard it. "You know," you might say, "you need Jesus." And they would agree and assure you that they already have Him. Or they might be offended that you would question them. Because they know they're in the faith. They have been immunized, so to speak. They got the seed, the germ, a little bit of weakened Christianity that allows them to build up a tolerance and now they're immune to your preaching because they think they have it.

I've known these people. I talked to a coworker who told me, "Oh, yeah, I tried that Jesus stuff. It didn't work." Immunized. I know a guy who was raised in a good Christian home, went to church regularly, was part of the groups, even taught a Bible study. He's an atheist now. What can you say to him that he hasn't heard? What new information can you bring to the table that might help him to see? Immunized. I know a sweet old lady who goes to church every Sunday and is nice and kind and all that. She isn't much for praying and she's not really interested in being involved in Christian things, but she's quite sure she's a Christian. Immunized. Christianity for many of these is just another religion. Be good and everything will go fine. What's the big deal? They've probably heard the truth over and over, but they didn't actually hear it. No ears, I suppose (Matt 11:15).

I pray for these people. They're confused. They think they have the truth, but they're missing the key ingredient -- Christ. I don't know the words to offer them. I can't change them. But I know Who can. So I pray hard for them and try to keep the lines of communication open. Every once in a while I've seen someone, content in their non-Christianity, suddenly come face to face with Christ and wake up. He can do that. So I pray and wait.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Known by God

It may just be me, but I was blown away by this thought the other day and thought I'd share, just in case.

I was reading in Matthew and came across Jesus's response to the "many" who think they're in -- "Lord, Lord, look what we've done in Your name" -- but aren't. "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" (Matt 7:23) It's a stunning phrase, really. "I never knew you," says the Omniscient Savior. And, of course, He wasn't talking about "never had knowledge of your existence." He was talking about an intimacy, a personal relationship, a real connection. And then I read in Paul's letter to the Galatian Christians about their change of status from slaves to sin to free and saw this.
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? (Gal 4:9)
Paul makes a point of turning the phrase around. They didn't become free from the slavery of sin by coming to know God; they became free by being "known by God". The reverse of the same concept Jesus was using. In the case of the "many" who were lost, He "never knew" them. In the case of the saved, they are saved because God "knows" them.

And then it struck me. Here, let me start small. I went to work for a company back in the early '90's whose president thought that the company's best asset was its people. The second day after I started there, the president walked by me in the hallway and said, "Hi, Stan. How are things working out?" I spoke with him briefly, but walked away amazed that the president of this not-very-small company knew my name. That's what struck me in these passages I've listed. I imagined that (unbiblical) moment when I stood before Saint Peter at the pearly gates and he started checking the books to see if my name was there. Jesus -- the ultimate authority, the Creator of all, the one in Whom all things consist -- walks by and says, "Oh, hey, Peter, I know him. That's Stan. Oh, yeah, let him in. He's a friend of mine. In fact, he is my adopted brother."

I can't imagine that. I can't fathom it. The God of the universe knows me. Not just that I exist. Knows me in an intimate, personal way. The same can be said for everyone who has a genuine relationship with Christ. Like David, I say, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot grasp it." (Psa 139:6) It is beyond my comprehension.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

News Weakly - 2/4/2017

A New Kind of Old Threat
Apparently "unpredictable" is now the new "radical Islam, war, and terror". That according to European Union President Donald Tusk. This alongside the "ban on Muslims" (which is not a "ban on Muslims", but a ban on travelers from specific countries -- note that not all predominantly Muslim countries have been affected) makes it quite clear that we've left the reality known as "normal world" and shifted to an alternate reality where "marriage" means "whatever you feel like" and "male and female" may no longer mean one of two genders, but any of a large number of possibilities. I mean, look, when Kentucky Court Clerk Kim Davis stood on religious principle to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she did so on a principle defended by the Bill of Rights and was castigated for it. When State Department workers threaten to refuse to follow the law because "I don't think so" on this temporary ban from seven countries, they do so without the Bill of Rights to support them ... but with the applause of everyone else. If we buy "You can't comment on abortion issues if you're not a woman" and "You don't have to have lady parts to be a woman" in the next breath and you don't have to be a "boy" to be a "Boy Scout" anymore, we are clearly not in Kansas anymore.

Why Is It That ...
Senate Democrats boycotted the vote on two of Trump's nominees. Why? Well, because. So why is it that when Republicans do this kind of thing it's "politics as usual" but when Dems do it it's "the principle of the matter"?

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Note: What I've written on these two stories should not cause the reader to conclude that I support the president's blocking of all visitors from seven countries or oppose the refusal of some Democrats on voting on the nominees. I point only to the problems of perception, not the issues themselves. It is false to characterize the president's order as "a ban on Muslims" and it is nonsensical to simply class one action as "politics as usual" and the other as "principle".
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Exploded Myth
We all know that Science and Religion are at war, right? Specifically Science and Christianity. You know ... they say "Evolution" and we say, "Creation". That kind of thing. Christians are, in fact, anti-intellectual. We all know that ... right? Turns out it's not true. Turns out it's a myth. Turns out that a few scientists in the 19th century set out to convince the world that Christianity opposed Science and always had. And they lied. Good to know.

More Left-Leaning Irony
Perhaps you've heard of Milo Yiannopoulos. He's gay, he's conservative, and he will never do. He was scheduled to speak at U.C. Berkley, "the home of the free speech movement", but the protests turned violent and it had to be cancelled. "More than 1,500 people had gathered outside. Some hurled metal barricades and others smashed windows at the student union." You'd think that his status as "gay" would make him acceptable to this crowd, but it looks like his conservatism is more hated than his sexual orientation is protected. Again, the party of inclusion and diversity and tolerance shows itself as violently none of those things.

It's About Time
Back in 1954 Lyndon B. Johnson was running for reelection as a senator. He was getting some opposition from conservative groups. So he introduced the Johnson Amendment. We know it now as 501(c)3. It's part of the IRS code that ensures that non-profit groups including churches don't pay taxes. Good, right? Well, except for the fact that there is a cost involved. They don't pay ... but they also don't play. Churches are not allowed to comment on political issues. Any church that agrees to the 501(c)3 agreement is tax free and silent. It's odd, too, because from the beginning churches were never taxed. Based on the First Amendment, the argument was that there was no surer way for government to interfere with the free exercise of religion than by taxing them. So it was never done. Churches, then, were fed a bill of goods ... called the Lyndon Amendment.

Now, I have to say I'm not a big Trump fan. I'm sorry. I'll respect the office and I'll obey the law as long as I'm not ordered to violate God's commands, but I'm not a fan. You can imagine, then, how it might come as a surprise to me to read that the president plans to eliminate the Johnson Amendment. Apparently, "Trump presents this ban on participating in politicking as a restriction on the freedom of faith groups to put their religion in action, if their religion calls on them to campaign for a candidate." And I have to agree. Now, he said it at the National Prayer Breakfast, so I don't know whether he will or can do it, but preventing pastors from speaking on political matters is indeed a limitation of free speech and the free exercise of religion, so I'd be in favor of it. Let's see what happens.

Just an Interesting Piece
David Ernst at The Federalist wrote this interesting article arguing that the election of Donald Trump is the result of postmodernism. Postmodernism is the ultimate "relativism", and in a world where antiheroes are heroes and words mean their opposites and all meaning and reality is whatever you think it is, the natural result is President Trump. I think he makes some good points.

Friday, February 03, 2017

In the Garden of Good and Evil

Jesus said of false teachers, "You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit." (Matt 7:16-17) So, we have two options. One is good and the other is bad. Seems pretty straightforward. However, add in what David said and Paul affirmed -- "No one does good, not even one" (Rom 3:12 -- and we have a problem. That seems to say that we only have one option -- bad. Clearly, however, Jesus indicated that there were two. So what is "good" and how do we bear that fruit?

Biblically, what do we know about good and evil? Well, there are a couple of salient points. We know that the comparison is sometimes in terms of light and darkness (e.g., John 3:19-20; 1 John 1:5-7). We know that our good works produce glory for God (Matt 5:16). Perhaps there's a hint in there to see how we can bear good fruit.

Paul told the Philippians that they must work out their salvation and told them how it was done. "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) There's a really good clue. In this scenario the "work out your salvation" that we accomplish is motivated ("will") and powered ("work") by God. Is it possible, then, that God's definition of "good" is "that which is done by God for God"? I think so.

In our favorite "saved by grace through faith" passage (Eph 2:8-9), we find this: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10) So, with Jesus's "good trees bear good fruit" imagery, this "good fruit" is prepared by God beforehand; we just walk in them. Jesus said, "Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." (John 3:21) There it is again. Our good works are a product of God's work in us. And, if you look back at the earlier reference, you'll find it's there, too.
This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
God is light. So when we "walk in the light" we do what He enables and provides.

It makes sense, then. We do not produce good works ("There is none who does good."). God does. "Good" is defined as what God does. The good works that we do are produced by God for God's glory. That's the "good fruit". And, see? We all know that fruit doesn't produce itself. We, then, will either produce the fruit of our sin natures or we will allow God to produce the fruit of His glory. The amazing part of this is that He then rewards us for His working out good in us. Now that is astounding.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

A JW Problem

Jehovah's Witnesses have their own Bible. It's similar to ours, of course, but only similar. The New World Translation (NWT) was translated by a few guys, only one of which had knowledge of Bible languages. He taught himself Hebrew and had a couple of years of Greek, so he was good to go. Not. It is no surprise, then, that their version is not the same as the others and, obviously, they would come to a different place than Christians do.

The most glaring difference is in the deity of Christ. They say no. Our Bibles say yes. The single most clear text that says that Jesus was actually God is John 1:1.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
The NWT says it slightly different.
Originally the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.
"So? Doesn't it say the same thing?" Not quite. You see, there are passages in which humans are referred to as gods (lowercase "g"). See, for instance, Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34-35. See? No "Jesus is God" required.

Now, truth be told, no reputable Greek scholar would render John 1:1 as "a god". It's not in there. It's not right. But at this point, let's leave that alone for a moment because I don't think you have to butt heads here over a meaning of a Greek word to make your point. Look a little farther down.
All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3)
Now note the NWT version.
All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.
Well, that is pretty much the same. If anything, the NWT is more emphatic. "Not even one thing." You see the problem, don't you? They say that Jesus was a created being. Oh, a high-end created being, but a creation nonetheless. So He cannot be God. God is uncreated. Jesus was, in the terms of the first translation, "made" or in the second, He "came into existence". So Jesus is absolutely unique because, as it turns out, He was able to create Himself. Before He came into existence, He caused Himself to come into existence. At least, if we're going to remain faithful to the text -- to their text -- that's the only possible conclusion. Because their text says "not even one thing came into existence" apart from Him. You see, we have a dilemma here. If Jesus is a created being, a "made" person, if He "came into existence" rather than being eternally existent as God, then He made Himself, an absolute impossibility.

We need to pray for people to meet Jesus, the Son of God, the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), the One in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col 2:9). Nothing less will do. We need, then, to pray for Jehovah's Witnesses. Maybe this can give an opening for a discussion away from the tried patterns of John 1:1 and a pause long enough for the Spirit to come through. Like each of us, they need Jesus. The one they have is not the biblical Jesus.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Please Don't Love Me

Watch just about any movie or TV show these days and you're going to encounter it. He (or she) does something horrible to her (or him). She (or he) confronts the bad person. "Oh, baby," he (or she) will answer, "I love you!" How does that work? In what world is doing a nasty turn, cheating, abusing, misusing, or otherwise being unkind or cruel equate to "love"? If that's your idea of love, please, don't love me.

It is the standard line so many times. It is most often associated with guys using it on girls, but, thanks to feminism, girls are getting just as bad. You know the line. "If you loved me, you'd ____." That blank is whatever the speaker is trying to get from the listener. Not give to. Not do for. The conclusion is always the same. "If you love me you'll do whatever I want you to without regard to your principles or preferences." If that's your idea of love, please, don't love me.

We have a strange view of love these days. Kids think that if their parents loved them, they'd let them do whatever they wanted. This is patently foolish. If "whatever they wanted" was to run out in front of a car or break the law (as a couple of examples), love would demand intervention. But we're pretty sure it just means letting them do what they want. Our society equates love and sex, as if they are at least nearly synonymous. But everyone knows that sex has no requirement for love, so why have we bought that nonsense?

Love always seeks the very best for the loved one. Often that's delightful. Sometimes it's unpleasant. Love isn't just "warm feelings". It's an "other interest".

It is my intention to love God and love my neighbor. It is my aim that this love is the kind the Bible talks about (1 Cor 13:4-8, for instance). It's not always a warm, fuzzy kind (Heb 12:4-8), but it is always with the best interests of others in mind. If your love is that kind, then by all means I'll take it. If not, please don't love me.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Common Thread

The New Testament ... the Bible, really ... is full of warnings about false prophets, false teachers, that sort of thing. They had them in the Old Testament. Witness the recurring warning about the error of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11; Rev 2:14). Elijah, the "outsider", faced the prophets of Baal, the "insiders" (1 Kings 18:20-40). In the New Testament several of the books such as Galatians and Colossians were written on the basis of false teachings. Others included hefty warnings, as in 2 Peter and Jude. Jesus Himself warned about them (Matt 7:15-23). John said they "went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) Thus, "from us" indicates that they are in our midst. The fact that we have false teachers today should come as no surprise.

In reading through some of this stuff lately, I came across an interesting thread of thought. See if you can find it ... you know ... if I lay it out for you.
"So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit." (Matt 7:17)

Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned. (2 Peter 2:2)

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. (2 Peter 2:9-10)

These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. (2 Peter 2:17-19)

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)
It's a sampling, but maybe you see it. (I hope so.) I see a running theme here. As in all unbelievers (Eph 4:17-19), the normal mode of operation is plain to see: they "have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity." And, as it turns out, this is the same modis operandi of the false teacher. They "follow their sensuality", "indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires", "entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality" while becoming "slaves of corruption", and "turn the grace of our God into licentiousness." Repeated also in there is "despise authority" including denying "our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" -- the Ultimate Authority. (See also Jude 1:8.) These are, of course, interlinked. The Authority says to avoid indulging the flesh and they say, "No!"

It's interesting, then, if you look around at the false teachers you may know. They seem to be exactly that -- immersed in sensuality. "It's okay to have sex with whoever you want; God loves love." "God wants you to be healthy and wealthy." "Forget about all those commandments; we're free! God wants you to be happy!" False teachers are precisely today what they have always been. They are bad trees bearing bad fruit. But because they are fruit trees and because they are offering exactly what people want to hear ("If it feels good, do it!"), they thrive.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim 4:3-4)
Today is that day.

Want to know if you're looking at a false teacher? Find out if he promotes sensuality. Is he (or she) urging you to pursue your desires, to indulge the flesh, to turn away from "the old ways" and stop being on "the wrong side of history"? Or is he asking you to "come out from among them and be separate" (2 Cor 6:17)? Is he asking you to enjoy your lust or escape it (2 Peter 1:4)? Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruits." (Matt 7:16) Go with Jesus on this one.