Sunday, January 25, 2015

Grace

And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you ..." (2 Cor 12:9)
Paul wrote this, a quote from Christ to Paul, in regards to a thorn in the flesh from which he was suffering. I think, however, that the text speaks volumes beyond that context.

We Christians get that we are saved by grace, and that's a good thing. I think, however, that we miss the magnitude of that grace in every other facet of life. Grace for salvation is good. But do we see the grace for everyday living?

Start with "All have sinned." (Rom 3:23) Start with "The intent of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21) If these are true, what can you expect from God? Not merely nothing--judgment. And yet, when Adam and Eve fell, God did not begin with judgment. They didn't die on the spot. Grace. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Israel found grace in the wilderness (Jer 31:2) and in the midst of their judgment for their sin (Ezra 9:8). You and I find grace daily. The clothes you wear, the food you eat, the people you love, the job you have, the health you enjoy, every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father (James 1:17). His grace is enormous. And we have received grace upon grace (John 1:16).

God's grace in salvation is magnificent, marvelous, amazing. But beyond that His daily grace is ... what was it He told Paul? ... "sufficient for you." Let's not be like the normal human who don't honor God or thank Him (Rom 1:21). He deserves unending gratitude for His amazing grace toward us. Rather than take it for granted or, worse, demand it, look for it with joy and receive it with thanksgiving because God's grace is unmerited and bigger than you can imagine.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Best of All Possible Worlds

The Problem of Evil is the complaint about God that if evil exists, He doesn't. You know. If God is all good and all powerful, why doesn't He eliminate evil? Must not be there. Another way this question is put to the believer is this. "Do you think this is the best of all possible worlds?"

It's a tricky question. We all dream of utopia. Stories are written about it. In large and small ways we figure out how things would be better. "If only" is the phrase. And then there's heaven. Surely that is the best of all possible worlds and this is not heaven. So we must conclude that this is not the best possible world. And we knuckle under to the skeptic.

I have to tell you I must disagree. I know. I'm not in the majority. Even among Christians. But I believe that this, indeed, is the best of all possible worlds. How can that be? Well, I believe in a Sovereign God, a God who is absolutely over all things. Logically, since He is also good, I have to assume that this world as it exists is, in His opinion, what He wants it to be. And since His is the only right opinion, I have to conclude that He thinks this is the best of all possible worlds because it's the world He made and allows to continue. He is under no obligation to do so. He must think this is the plan.

I believe that God has just such a plan. He says in Romans 9, for instance, that He is willing to demonstrate His power and wrath on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. That means that God sees a demonstration of His power and wrath as better than not doing so. Solomon wrote, "The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil." (Prov 16:4). That requires that God has a purpose for the wicked and it is better than not allowing the wicked. And so it goes.

I'm not saying I don't dream of a better world. I'm not saying that heaven won't be better than this. And I'm certainly not saying that I understand it all. But, considering the stipulation "possible" in "all possible worlds" and considering that God is both Sovereign and Good, I can only conclude that this world, currently, is the best of all possible worlds even if another, better one will follow. But, hey, that's just me. Others are perfectly capable of considering a less-than-Sovereign, not-quite-capable God. I'd hope it wouldn't be Christians who do it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Judge Not

It has become the best known Bible verse anywhere. "Judge not." Never mind that it's not quite a verse; it's just a piece of one. Never mind that the text does not allow the intent that most people seem to have for it. It's not about not judging, but about not judging others before you judge yourself. Never mind that they've got it all wrong. It's still perhaps the best known and the most loved, even among unbelievers because, after all, you can use it to shut up people who have opinions about sin.

Have you ever thought about what's going on there? When someone says, "Don't judge me!", what are they saying? Well, we can eliminate some possibilities right off the bat. They're not saying, "Thanks so much for the helpful input." They're also not saying, "I agree with you that it's wrong." That's not an admission on the table. They're also not saying, "You're wrong." Oh, they might be suggesting you're wrong for saying anything, but they're not saying that you're wrong about your suggestion that such and such is wrong or right to do. Because, you see, if that was in view, they'd say it. And hopefully tell you why. They don't.

What are they saying, then, when they tell you, "Don't judge me!"? They're saying, "It may be wrong, but I'll do it anyway." Otherwise it would be, "Thanks! I'm wrong and I'll fix it." Or "I'm right and here's why." No, they use "Judge not" as an excuse to continue doing what I suspect they already know is wrong. And I'm quite certain that's not what Jesus meant when He said it.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Walk

Paul writes to the church at Ephesus with some of the most glorious truths. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places," (Eph 1:3) he begins and then launches into a listing of the spiritual blessings with which we are blessed (Eph 1:3-14). He repeatedly reminds us that we are blessed with these blessings for the purpose of glorifying God (Eph 1:6, 12, 14). He prays they would see the glory of Christ (Eph 1:16-23) and contrasts that with the natural human condition (Eph 2:1-3) which only serves to magnify God's love and mercy in saving us (Eph 2:4-10). He explains to the Gentile believers that they were without hope but are now part of the covenant (Eph 2:11-22). He prays that they would "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3:19) and almost loses the ability to express God's capability to do more than we ask or think (Eph 3:20-21). And then he says,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. (Eph 4:1)
"Walk in a manner worthy of the calling." You see, there is a correlation between right thinking and right living. There is a correlation between "cold hard facts" and "how we live". Paul says, "Look at the manner in which you were called (see the previous 3 chapters) and then walk accordingly."

How does Paul suggest, in light of our calling, that we walk? Well, he first offers a quick summary--"with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph 4:2-3) But, after explaining the function of the Spirit, the unity of the Body of Christ, and the function of the Church (Eph 4:4-16) (The function of the Church, basically, is "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up the body of Christ ..." (Eph 4:12).), Paul goes into more detail. He does it by means of contrast. "This is what those who are not saved are; you should be different." So he begins,
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! (Eph 4:17-20)
What follows after that is the contrast (Eph 4:22-32). "Don't be that; be this." But look at that characterization of the unbeliever. What are the key components to avoid?

1. Walking in the futility of their minds

Note, first and foremost, that the remedy to this is not "be mindless". It is not "stop thinking". Some suggest we should simply follow the leading of the Spirit. Paul says, "Be renewed in the spirit of your minds." (Eph 4:23). (See? That's the contrast to "futility of their minds".) It isn't that we shouldn't use our minds. It is that we need to recognize that Natural Man suffers from brain damage due to sin (Rom 1:21-23, 28). So do you. (All of us come originally from the breed known as "Natural Man".) It is not a command to not use your mind, but to not use it in futility.

Have you ever wondered why they can't see that homosexual behavior is a sin when it's so clear in Scripture? Futility of mind. Have you ever wondered how it is that sexual immorality has become so prevalent in all aspects of our society? Futility of mind. "Why can't they see that abortion is killing a baby?" Futility of mind. Have you ever come across a command--say, "Love your neighbor" or "Make disciples, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you"--that you do not seek to obey? That's futility of mind. We all have it. We all suffer from it. We have the Truth in written form and in Christ within, so avoid futile thinking and renew your mind.

2. Darkened in understanding

With ineffective thinking comes darkened understanding. Paul says, "The Natural Man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14). Thus, "avoid that."

3. Alienated from the life of God (due to ignorance and hardness of heart)

Natural Man lacks spiritual life which can only be supplied by God. His ignorance and hard-heartedness makes it certain. Are you expecting something more from them? More importantly, are you addressing the certain remnants of ignorance and hard-heartedness in your life?

4. Callous

"Callous" means "past feeling", and you might be tempted to question this claim given the prevalence of operating all of life on the basis of feelings. Remember, though, that the point is right thinking, functioning understanding, a connection with God. The unbeliever doesn't care about these things. Do you?

5. Given to sensuality

Not caring about proper thinking or a right relationship with God, what do they care about? Sensuality. Satiating the senses. Paul warns a few verses later that the old man "is corrupt through deceitful desires" (Eph 4:22). Our desires deceive. And we indulge them. Oh, how true it is! Think just for a moment about a clear example. What, to the Muslim mind, is "heaven"? 72 virgins. Really? "Heaven" is defined as sensual satisfaction? Why not, when the bulk of our society lives with the same mindset? Do you? That's the real question. Are you all about appeasing the senses? Are you aware that it's a lie?

6. Greedy to practice impurity

We live in a culture seemingly structured around illustrating this truth. They aren't simply given to sensuality. They aren't simply practicing impurity. They are greedy for it. They work it. They dig for it. They invent it. There are evils occurring today that wouldn't have occurred to earlier times in our society. But we're working hard at it because we are greedy to practice all manner of moral impurity. And again I ask, "Are you?"

Paul gives some helpful positives, a nice list of things to aim for rather than this list that we should avoid. Go there (Eph 4:22-32). Do it. If you are a member of the Body of Christ, pursue those things. Be sure to recognize 1) that Natural Man is faulty and 2) such were you. We need to both move toward and move away from. And don't expect them to be better than God says they are.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Newsweek Got Right

I'm sure you've seen the kerfuffle over Newsweek's Christmas article, The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin by Kurt Eichenwald. Lots and lots of good responses explaining not only his faulty information, but his poor reasoning. I linked to some and even (if you know where to look) offered a very brief rebuttal myself. But, that's not this. This is about what he got right.

Cafeteria Christians

Right out of the blocks Kurt accuses people of being "cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch." It happens. He's right. I think he overplayed his hand with assuming it is "fundamentalists" who form the core of this group, but I do agree that there are Christians, at least in name, who make it their business to complain about homosexuals while indulging in their own sexual immorality or rally against abortion while killing with hate (Matt 5:21-22). Let's not do that. Find out what God says and follow it. All of it. Even if it violates your personal preferences, your feelings, or your current beliefs.

Know Your Bible

Kurt suggests that no one can read the Bible. "No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you." That's because, in his view, no such thing exists and what we have today is a poor and unreliable copy. Oddly enough, then, he says later, "If Christians truly want to treat the New Testament as the foundation of the religion, they have to know it." And I have to say, "Amen!" If you want to avoid being that cafeteria Christian, you have to know what it says. If you're supposed to be "teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt 28:20), you have to know all that is commanded. Look, just from a human, practical viewpoint, if God took the time to express His thoughts to us, it seems like we would desperately wish to read, consume, examine, and understand what He intended to say. Picking up pithy lines from pleasant preachers is not studying God's Word. Good teachers are good--necessary, even--but they are no substitute for knowing God's Word. Eichenwald says we should know our Bibles, and I agree.

Right Belief, Wrong Response

The article in Newsweek made multiple references to bad actions from supposed Christians. Now, to be fair, some of it was misleading and even false, but it is still true that lots of stuff is done in the name of Christ that violates the Word. One of his examples was Christian parents who banish their homosexual child. We know that "the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor 6:9-10) So, if you're going to banish your homosexual son, you'll also need to kick out his sister who is fornicating with her boyfriend and their younger brother who is stealing from kids at school. Right belief--homosexual behavior is a sin--but wrong response--"Kick them out." We do that kind of thing. Christendom experienced wars over doctrine. Some of that doctrine was true; killing over it was the wrong response. Eichenwald was right. It happens. It shouldn't.

Judge Not

Kurt ends with "Jesus said, Don’t judge. He condemned those who pointed out the faults of others while ignoring their own." As a matter of fact that is exactly what Jesus was condemning in the famous "Judge not" passage (Matt 7:1-5). Not "Don't pass judgment" because He says, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matt 7:5), so taking the speck out of your brother's eye (judging) is a good thing as long as it's preceded with recognition and treatment of your own faults. Of course, Kurt redefines a "hypocrite" to mean "people obsessed with the sins of others", but there is a human tendency to be genuine hypocrites, pointing out sin in someone else while suffering from it ourselves. I remember a well-known Pentecostal preacher who routinely railed against sexual immorality and was arrested for spending time with prostitutes. That's a hypocrite. "You've got a problem with this and need to fix it; I don't." I cannot imagine how many Christians condemn the sexual immorality of homosexual behavior while not dealing well with their own brand of sexual immorality. That's a hypocrite. And Jesus did not have warm words for hypocrites.

Truthfully, most of the article was bunk. False facts, faulty thinking, convoluted logic, lies. But even a stopped watch gets the time right twice a day. And these are some of his points with which I agreed. We cannot afford to pick and choose what we will follow in God's Word. In order to avoid that, we need to know God's Word. Having acquired the truth, we need to be careful to respond correctly. And we really cannot afford to simply be tossing the truth over the wall at "them" before applying it to ourselves. And when you think of it, all of that ties together nicely. Know the Word, follow it all, respond to it correctly, and apply it to yourself. In that, Newsweek got it right. Do you suppose they meant to say that?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pick and Choose

It is a common accusation. "All you Christians pick and choose what parts of the Bible you'll agree with." Or something similar. Sometimes it's more pointed. "You conservative Christians cherry pick what you'll follow." Other times it's more general. "Everyone does it." But it's out there and it's a given. Or is it? As I always like to ask--on either side of a claim--is it true?

I find these days that it gets harder and harder to respond to accusations, whether someone agrees with me or disagrees with me, because it is harder and harder to tell what they mean. What is meant by "pick and choose"? What does that indicate? The dictionary says it means "to choose very carefully from a number of possibilities; to be selective." But that doesn't really help in the case of the accusation. What possibilities and what selection? The first notion I think of is, "You pick out passages in the Bible to agree with and you pick out passages of the Bible to ignore." That is, "There are many possible rules and beliefs, but you only select the ones you like." That's the one we think of, but that may not be it. It may be, "You don't approach the Bible as 'linear', so to speak. You take some of it at face value and some as poetry and some as proverb and some as parable and so on." That would surely be a possible definition for "pick and choose". "You carefully examine a text to determine what kind of text, context, historical surroundings, audience, and all are in view and then read it in that sense." I'm pretty sure, though, that this is not in view in the accusation.

I can't speak for everyone ("Everyone does it."), but I can speak for the vast majority of people I've known. I know of no serious Christian who consciously picks rules or beliefs they like and discards rules or beliefs they dislike to determine their Christianity. I'm sure it happens, but I wouldn't classify those who do it as serious Christians. What I do and what those who I know do is to read the Bible with the notion that it is the Word of God. It is God-breathed, correct at every point, coherent, and true. As such, I expect and look for a continuity of thought and principle, of law and doctrine, of, well, of Christianity. If something appears to contradict something else, I don't marginalize it or set it aside. I try to see where I've missed it and where it makes sense. I correct my thinking, not God's.

If I find an optional theory about a particular text that suggests God was wrong, I discard it. If that's "pick and choose", I'm guilty. If I find two passages that appear to contradict, I come to a conclusion that would align them. If that's "pick and choose", I do it. I try to maintain a coherent worldview and, thus, a coherent biblical understanding, setting aside irrational positions. If that's "pick and choose", I admit it. I read an historical narrative as historical narrative and prophecy as prophecy and poetry as poetry and parable and proverb as parable and proverb and hyperbole as hyperbole. If that's "pick and choose", I pick and choose. But if the accusation is "You pick out passages in the Bible to agree with and you pick out passages of the Bible to ignore," I'm going to have to call you on it. I know of no place where I discard anything. Do I still make sacrifices in the Temple? No, Jesus fulfilled that. Is that "discarding Scripture"? No. His sacrifice is ever before the Father, better than any human version with lamb or bull could ever be. I embrace it. If I don't follow commands given to Abraham (like "sacrifice your son") because they aren't commands given to everyone, is that "pick and choose"? I don't think so. The command was not to me. If I don't follow instructions given to national Israel such as the death penalty for adulterers or for wayward children, is that "pick and choose"? I don't think so. The command was not to me. If I make a coherent message from the Bible which would include history and science and doctrine and commands and even time, is that "pick and choose"? I don't think so. It is simply reading God's Word for God's purposes to come to God's conclusions. If I agree with God's moral code but don't follow ceremonial cleansing rules, is that "pick and choose"? I don't think so. Commands given to a people warned to "be ye separate" from the world around them that were not given to non-Jews for that purpose don't apply to ... non-Jews (Acts 10:1-16; Acts 15:1-21). That's not "pick and choose". It is coherence.

But, as I said, given the difficulty of understanding the intent of words and phrases these days, I can't say. Maybe all those things I described are "pick and choose" by the definition chosen by the accuser. Maybe the only way to avoid such an accusation is to take a flat view, observe everything in it, and arrive at an incoherent, inconsistent, irrational view. Maybe that is the only acceptable approach. But that would reflect badly on God, wouldn't it? And that would just make me one of them, wouldn't it?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Just a Thought

I'm sure you've all heard about Alex Malarkey, the young boy from and coauthor of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven who has fessed up and told everyone that it was just made up. Tyndale has pulled it. Apparently they never read the stuff that Paul wrote about the man who "was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak." (2 Cor 12:4). That should have been a clue.

But, seriously, my first clue would have been, "It's written by who? A couple of people named Malarkey?? That sounds like a lot of malarkey to me." My second clue would have been the constant efforts of Beth Malarkey, Alex's mom, to distance herself from the book and beg for the truth instead.

No, actually, I think my first clue would have been that the Bible says it can't happen (go and come back and tell about it). But Christians shouldn't be so narrow-minded that they let the Bible define reality, right?

The Cosby Controversy

Reports seem to vary widely. In one day I heard "more than 12", "up to 20", and "as many as 30" women have come forward accusing Bill Cosby of sexual harassment or sexual assault. At his shows there are protesters and advocates. Studios and advertisers pull out while friends and family stand firm. Just recently Cosby's lawyer came out with the claim of having proof that Cosby wasn't even at the Playboy mansion when Chloe Goins asserts he drugged her. It seems like the Energizer bunny of allegations.

There are a few things that disturb me about this whole thing.

I am disturbed that there are so many accusations. Sure, the media can't figure out how many, it seems, but the fact that there are from a dozen through 30 possible accusations looks, well, damning. If they're lying, it is a conspiracy of some sort. That looks bad for Mr. Cosby.

I am disturbed because no charges have been brought. I mean, seriously, if 30 claim he sexually assaulted them in some way or another (and we'd have to guess there were more who haven't come forward), why has not one single one filed charges? Back then or now? That tends to make Mr. Cosby's denial more credible.

What disturbs me most, however, is neither whether he is guilty as the first point would suggest or not as the second would seem to say. No, it's that so many loud, angry voices are willing to flush the American justice system down the toilet. In our country, you are deemed innocent until proven guilty. Unless, apparently, you're Bill Cosby. Possibly any man accused of rape. Or discrimination. Or if you're a Christian accused of "homophobia". Or ... well, if you look at it for very long it appears as if a large and growing number of Americans are opposed to the American version and would like to institute something different. Trial by media, for instance. That's convenient because then we don't have to worry about pesky difficulties like facts, evidence, reason, or justice.

You see, that one is the most disturbing to me because it has the deepest ramifications.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Far More Abundantly Beyond

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)
This is a stunning piece. But it's easy to miss just how stunning it is. Take a look.

First, there is the claim that He can do more than we ask or think. Anyone who knows the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Sovereign God will get that He can exceed what we can imagine, but that's not what Paul said. Well, sort of. What he said was that God is able to do "far more abundantly beyond all" that we ask or think. So, what could you possibly ask? He can do that. What could you imagine? Yeah, He can do that, too. But He can so far exceed it that Paul doesn't know how to express it. It's huge. "Far more abundantly beyond all."

But wait! That's just the beginning. Paul says that He can vastly exceed your imagination and then makes a truly amazing claim. It is "according to the power that works within us." We understand that He has power exceeding our comprehension. Did you know that power is at work in you? Do you ever feel too weak to accomplish what you need to accomplish? You have that excessive power in you. Do you ever feel like you can never be what God wants you to be? You have that excessive power in you. Do you feel at times that He asks too much of you? You have that excessive power--His power that exceeds your comprehension--in you.

What's it all about? What's the end game? Why put that power in you and me? For His glory. For His glory in the church and in Christ and in all time.

Stunning, truly stunning.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Serious Question

I normally reserve Saturday posts for something a little less significant. You know, some humor, something less important, Saturday morning lite, that sort of thing. Not as many readers and likely those that are reading aren't as interested in thinking as hard on a Saturday. Well, this one isn't humorous and isn't as light. It's a serious question. I'm doing it on Saturday because 1) I'm not sure that I can get real answers (not for lack of trying, but because I'm not sure any of us have real answers) and 2) I'm not sure that getting real answers to this question will change anything. So, I ask a serious question and I'd like to see if anyone can suggest reasons and that's about it.

I was watching TV for a moment the other day and saw a commercial about a group trying to help veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq who return with PTSD and commit suicide. Very sad. In 2013 CNN reported that more than 22 veterans a day were committing suicide. This year the Huffington Post wrote that the rate wasn't likely accurate; it was much higher. Congress is seeking to pass a bill to lower suicide rates among veterans because it's considered an epidemic. Suicides among veterans, they say, are triple the rate of suicides among the civilian population. According to Business Insider, 1892 U.S. veterans took their own lives in 2014 alone. In 2012 more veterans took their own lives than soldiers who were lost in actual combat.

This is tragic, and it made me wonder. What about other veterans? Turns out that Vietnam vets had similar problems. Of course, they have been around longer, giving them more time to accumulate numbers, but their age group is among the highest in suicide rates. Before that? Not so much. Neither World War II nor the Korean Conflict produced anything like this phenomenon among returning veterans. Suicides in both were around a 10-11 per 100,000 rate. Much, much lower than modern soldiers. So there's my question. Why? Why are veterans of recent conflicts more susceptible to suicide than those of earlier wars? What has changed?

I've tried to come up with my own answers. Guesses, really. Is it in the veterans themselves? I think there are differences between the soldier of 1940 and the soldier of 2014 that are significant. The earlier generation was of a different mindset, a different culture, a different society. They came out of a Great Depression era where the country was trying to pull itself out of its collapse and they went to a "We've been attacked" place after Pearl Harbor where they pulled themselves together to defend their friends and families. They were used to having less and sacrificing more. Modern troops are a different breed. We've encouraged self-esteem and a higher sense of self-interest in the modern kids. They have much more and sacrifice (typically) much less. They have a stronger sense of personal entitlement. Even among the American poor they have computers and smartphones and televisions, more than previous generations had. And we've encouraged a "do what feels good" mentality, a "me" generation. You can see it in the proliferation of commercials offering lawsuits for every possible thing that might go wrong. "Don't let a DUI ruin your life," one law firm's ad says without suggesting that "Don't drink and drive" would be a good alternative. This society tends to be less responsible, less "adult". In 2003 CBS did a piece that suggested that "most think adulthood begins at age 26." More are living at home after 18. Fewer are married before 30. It's a different generation than the 40's and 50's.

Maybe it is in the ease of life we enjoy. The first half of the 20th century in America saw some tough times. People who endure tough times in an ongoing way will likely find it easier to manage in other tough times. People who have endured trauma learn to endure trauma. But our current climate is pretty much at ease. Not a whole lot of need for traumatic coping skills. Maybe that's where it lies.

I've heard that the primary reason is what they term "survivor guilt". You know, "Why did I make it when so many around me didn't?" It's a popular answer, but I wonder. I mean, earlier vets had the same problem, but it didn't up their suicide rates. Could it be that they saw a greater purpose in their efforts which gave some sense of meaning to the losses while today's troops have had their sense of purpose, both in war and in life, wrenched from beneath them?

Maybe it's society. In the 1940's we sent our boys to fight off the Germans and the Japanese, the Axis of Evil. They were heroes, defending our shores and fighting oppression. They saved us and they saved the world. Welcome back, boys! We are so proud of you! In the 1950's they went again to stave off oppression. They fought against the evil of Communism that threatened South Korea and, by extension, all of us. Both of these fought heroic wars for high purposes and were well-received by their people. Vietnam was a different story. They returned as "baby killers" fighting to defend a people their society couldn't care less about without the support they needed. And it has been thus since. We had a sense of the Pearl Harbor mentality after 9/11, but it didn't last very long. It wasn't very long before America had once again turned against defending America or even other people (like the Afghans or the Iraqis) if it took any real effort or incurred any real cost. So these men and women risked much and returned with little thanks or support. No, not as bad as the Vietnam vets saw, but not nearly the warm embrace that World War II veterans enjoyed. Maybe it's a problem with society.

Maybe it's elsewhere. Or everywhere. A combination. Other factors. I'm just wondering, because it's sad to see so many suffering so much. Like I said, I don't know if there are actual answers and I don't know if getting the answer would fix anything. I just wonder.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Anti-Gay

You'll hear the term anytime a Christian speaks out about the morality of the behavior. The media almost certainly will refer to them as "anti-gay remarks" or something like it. Oh, sure, you'll hear it when some nutjob like the Westboro Baptist types says, "God hates fags," and we all get that. It is, without a doubt, "anti-gay" because they are opposed to the existence of such a thing. But when applied to your average, everyday Al Mohler or John MacArthur or Atlanta Fire Chief Kevin Cochran who are simply saying, "The Bible says that behavior is a sin," I have to wonder if the accusation is accurate.

So let's take it apart and look. We get "anti". You're opposed to something. "Antifreeze" opposes freezing. Easy. An "anti-terrorism" group would be working to stop terrorism. No problem. So this term, whatever it means, is opposed in some way to the subsequent "gay". So, what is "gay"? Now that all depends. If you asked me as a youth, it was commonly used to refer to being happy, or, perhaps, to cheerful colors. "She was gayly dressed" meant simply she wore bright and cheerful clothes. "Everyone was feeling gay" meant they were all happy. In its original sense, that's what it meant. By the middle of the 17th century, a second use became "an immoral or loose life". In the 1920's, right alongside the "happy" theme, it could be used to refer not only to a promiscuous man, but to one who had sex with other men. It was, apparently, just such men who drove the meaning from "cheerful" to "homosexual". They felt "homosexual" was demeaning, but "gay" sounded less offensive. By 1955 it was their mostly private term for themselves. In my youth it still meant "happy", but that has long since been excised from the word. So, when we say something is "anti-gay" today, what do we mean?

Well, I'm still unclear. You see, "homosexual" once referred to the acts committed by same and, therefore, so did "gay" in that sense. "Homosexual" today is primarily a reference to a state of being. People are offended if you call it a "preference"; it's an "orientation". They're "born that way." It is likened to race. It's a birth condition and you can't do anything about it. Never mind that people routinely move in and out of just such an "orientation". Set aside any evidence that it's flexible, even a choice. And by no means consider the moral question. It is just part of a definition of particular people. Thus, "gay" no longer means "what they do", but "who they are". So, is that in view with the concept of "anti-gay"?

When Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church says "God hates fags", he is "anti-gay" by any definition of the term. He is opposed to their behavior. He is opposed to their existence. But when Louie Giglio, that guy nixed from the Obama inauguration in 2013 because of his "anti-gay sermon" said, "We’ve got to say to the homosexuals, the same thing that I say to you and that you would say to me … it’s not easy to change, but it is possible to change," was that opposition to people or to an act? When the Bible says, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10), is that opposition to people or to an act?

So we come down to the question of the meaning of words again. If, by "anti-gay", you mean "Anyone who makes a moral judgment on people who identify themselves by their sexual attraction to the same gender", I don't believe it's accurate. Sure, there are some, but I think those are the exceptions, not the rule. On the other hand, if the Bible is correct in warning that those who practice homosexual behavior will not inherit the kingdom of God and people warn them about that, can that be classified as "anti"?

If the term "gay" refers to a behavior, then Christians are "anti-gay". That's because the Bible is anti-gay ... in that sense. If the term "gay" refers to a definition of a particular group of people, then Christians aren't--should not be--anti-gay. And warning those people who categorize themselves by that term is not opposition to those people. It is a service. So, tell me again. Just what do you mean by "anti-gay"?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Responding to Newsweek

If you've heard about Newsweek's piece, The Bible So Misunderstood It's a Sin, in which the author assures us there is very little reason to think we have a usable Bible, you will not likely find a more comprehensive response than this one as well as Daniel Wallace's excellent response. You know, just in case you were looking and wondering.

Update
Newsweek has given space for a response from Dr. Michael Brown ... another right-on response. (Apparently they were concerned when they saw me posting something on it, right? Yeah, right.)

Religious Freedom

New York Op-ed Columnist, Frank Bruni is a self-described gay. He's concerned that some of us see a threat to the First Amendment, specifically our protection from "an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Mr. Bruni believes that people like me think that redefining marriage to mean something it has never meant or their right to have sex with whomever they please is a threat to our religious liberty. Now, I can't speak for anyone else, but I have to say I'm baffled by this.

I am (if it isn't plainly obvious) opposed to redefining marriage. Further, I believe that sexual relations between anyone who is not married (and I'm talking about "married" in the longstanding, traditional definition) are immoral. There should be no question on either point. So I'm opposed to "gay marriage" as an unnecessarily destructive intrusion into genuine marriage and I would urge people not to engage in sexually immoral behavior. Does any of that mean that they cause me concern about my religious liberty? Not that I can tell.

Mr. Bruni applauds the fact that "same-sex marriage" is now legal in 36 states. He doesn't mind that it happened by the sheer force of the judiciary in the vast majority of cases. As long as they can push it through the courts, who cares what's right or wrong? But, hey, I'm still not calling this a threat to my religious freedom. And he bemoaned the fact that 10 states considered legislation to protect religious rights because it might discriminate based on sexual orientation. That, perhaps, comes closer. Then he speaks of the growing numbers who are forced to assist in the celebration of such weddings against their beliefs. Oh, he doesn't use those terms, but those are the people. And now we're getting right up onto the doorstep of religious liberty.

You see, when florists and photographers are forced by law to act against their conscience, now we're looking at the question of religious liberty. When you engage in foolish behavior (like calling the relationship of two males or two females "marriage") or sinful behavior (like sexual immorality of whatever brand you like), my religious freedom is intact. When you make me act against my religious values, now we have another question.

And it's not like we're looking at equality. When the Muslim barber refused to cut the hair of the lesbian customer, he won the case because of his religious freedom. Not so for Christians. We're not looking at equality. When a lesbian law student called a Christian wedding venue with recorder running and asks if she can have her wedding there, you know this wasn't simply a request for information. It wasn't a quest for equality. When businesses owned by homosexuals refuse to provide services that run counter to their beliefs (and they're not religious beliefs) and no one calls them on it, we're not looking at equality. In fact, I'll be really surprised the day a gay baker provides a slogan cake for a Westboro Baptist rally that says, "God hates fags." Not gonna happen. And I wouldn't want it to. But we're not looking at equality here.

Mr. Bruni believes the threat (or rather the lack thereof) is in the business. "Baking a cake, arranging roses, running an inn: These aren’t religious acts." He's right, but he's missing a key point. "Their owners are routinely interacting with customers who behave in ways they deem sinful." He's correct, but he's missing a key point. "I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts." And that's where the key point is ultimately missed.

Christianity is not a function of a church or a prayer closet. It is an entire worldview. A religion that is practiced only in the privacy of your home or your church or your heart is not a valid religion. If we're right, if there is a God, if the Bible is correct, if Christianity is valid, then it doesn't merely affect our "religious acts." It affects everything. There is no On or Off switch here. "I can be religious here, but not there." Can't happen. It affects our viewpoints, our beliefs, our perceptions, our values, our hopes and dreams, our jobs, our families, everything. In fact, every worldview does. It would be like asking an atheist to be atheist outside, but to be a theist when he walks into your church. Or like asking a homosexual to be homosexual at home but heterosexual in your house. It's ludicrous. And it won't happen. At least not to the atheist or the homosexual.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

In Other News

In Nigeria Boko Haram militants attacked some 16 villages killing as many as 2,000 people. The attack started January 3rd and lasted through the weekend. Some 30,000 people were displaced, fleeing for their lives. You remember Boko Haram. They're the Islamic militants that kidnapped over 200 school girls last year. They're still missing. A spokesperson for the State Department said the group shows no regard for human life and needs to be held responsible. Meanwhile, Cameroon is facing threats from the same group. The odd thing is that I saw headlines about people being upset that American representation didn't show up to to the rally in Paris over the terrorist attack that killed 12 there, but had to go a long way to find out that 2,000 were killed by Islamic terrorists in Nigeria.

You may have heard that General David Petraeus is in the news again because he may face prosecution for leaking classified information to his mistress. Good news ... Attorney General Eric Holder of "fast and furious"-that-got-a-border-agent-killed fame assures us that the investigation will be handled fairly. I suppose if by "fairly" he means "If we find anything we'll dismiss it out of hand like we did for my case", that makes sense. As much sense as putting this same "fast and furious" fellow on the gun control issue.

Elsewhere, President Obama will host a summit on countering violent extremism next month. He will do this while never admitting that the violent extremists are Islamic terrorists. So, the aim is to confront violent extremism without considering its motivation or source.

You know, at some point I begin to wonder why I pay attention to the news ...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

They Did It Again

Back in 2012 the owners of Chick-fil-A ran afoul of public opinion (at least some of the public) when they stated that they believed that marriage was the union of a man and a woman. Gasp! Horrors! Oh, wait, that has always been the definition. So, why ... well, never mind. It was "anti-gay" and "homophobic". Now, mind you, there wasn't the slightest suggestion that Chick-fil-A had ever discriminated against anyone on the basis of that belief. It's just that the owner had it and, therefore, it was horrendous. And then we got this really foolish statement out of more than one leader. Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco (to name a few) all determined to ban the franchise from their cities because Chick-fil-A was not being "inclusive".

First, let me repeat, there was no accusation of any form of discrimination from the company. No one said they lost a job, couldn't get a job, or were mistreated in any way. So apparently, "inclusive" meant "embracing our beliefs on this subject". Second, In what possible sense is "You will not to be included here" being "inclusive"? How is "We will not allow those who hold this view" not "discrimination", the very thing they were all protesting?

And, of course, it does not make sense. And, yet, we hear it over and over.

And here it is again. I'm sure you've heard of the firing of Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran. He did the unforgiveable. Oh, sure, he had years and years of good service, the respect and admiration of his people, and all that, but he did the worst possible thing. He insulted Islam? No, no, that's bad, but this is worse. He wrote a book that said that homosexual behavior was a sin. Gasp! This man has got to go!

The mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, said that it wasn't his religious beliefs that caused the problem. It was his discrimination. Wait ... what discrimination? No one had complained about being discriminated against. No, it was his discrimination between sin and not sin, between right and wrong ... like they were discriminating. No, that can't be it. So what is "discrimination"? It's not being "discriminating" as in determining what is good and bad, right and wrong, wise and foolish. They're doing it, so that can't be it. And it can't be treating someone different because of their difference of opinion, because Mr. Cochran did not do that, but the mayor did. So they're using words again that don't make sense.

The mayor contended that the problem was that Mr. Cochran's views undermined "his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse work force." Ah, now, see? "Diversity." That's the aim. Where one person believes that "gay" is good and another believes it isn't and that's okay. No, wait, that's not working, either, is it? So, like those cities that banned Chick-fil-A in the name of "inclusiveness", Atlanta is removing a fire chief in the name of "diversity".

Of course, as before, the LGBTLMNOP[1] folk are praising this the mayor's decision. Do not tolerate opposition. Don't allow people with differing perspectives who don't allow those differing perspectives to affect how they treat people to be in office or employed or in view. Like that isn't contradictory. You can't eliminate opposition and call it "tolerance" or remove offenders on the basis of your own bigotry and call it "unbigoted". You can't, as Delta Airlines contended, fire someone simply for disagreeing based on "core values of mutual respect."

Recently Pima County in Arizona started considering a position of refusing to hire smokers as county employees. For those smokers who were currently employed (an estimated 32% of the workforce), they would see a 30% health insurance surcharge. Now, prospective employers have rules about what they can ask at an interview. They cannot ask your religious practices, your marital status, your medical condition, or even the distance of your commute ... currently. But that new law would allow them to ask your status as a smoker. How long until we hear in job interviews, "Are you now or have you ever been a practicing Christian?"[2] Because being a Christian is apparently the only legal reason for being "inclusive" by being exclusive, being "tolerant" by removing disagreement rather than allowing it, being "non-discriminatory" by firing those who disagree, or being "loving and unbigoted" by being hateful and bigoted toward those who you deem disagreeable. As long as we're able to redefine terms ("discrimination", "inclusive", "diversity", "tolerance", "mutual respect", etc.), this seems like a reasonable expectation.

________
[1] I know it looks like I'm being disrespectful, and perhaps to a small extent I am, but the truth is they keep changing the letters, so I'm trying to be all-inclusive. That's what we're all about, isn't it? "Inclusive"?

[2] You're probably thinking I'm being overly dramatic. New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Frank Bruni says, "I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts." That's right. If he got his way, you'd get your religious freedom ... right up until you walked out the door of your house or church, and no further.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Asked and Answered

My friend, Danny, is writing an interesting series of letters to his children over at Dear Children--Letters from a Father's Heart. Nice idea. Good stuff. Worth the read. Recently he wrote Eight Things You Can Do To Be A Better Human Being. Good list. Again, worth the read.

I was struck by one.
6. Ask questions, listen to the answers
I was struck because usually you would put "Ask questions" and assume the rest. I was struck because that assumption is likely not a wise one.

I remember seeing a comic strip (although I can't recall its name) with two frames. One showed "the typical way women communicate" and showed a sequence: 1) Speak, 2) Listen to the response, and 3) respond to the response. The second frame was "the typical way men communicate". That was 1) Speak, 2) wait 'til her lips stop moving, 3) speak again. Of course, I think the sexism was unnecessary and I think the first frame was optimistic, but the point was/is that too many of us ask questions without listening to the answers.

We ask questions for a variety of reasons; getting answers is only one of them. We ask rhetorical questions to make a point. "Is the pope Catholic?" requires no answer. We ask opinion questions to express rather than obtain opinions. "Would it be good if I kill my neighbor for not observing the Sabbath?" We ask questions to mislead. "Yes or no: Have you stopped beating your wife?" We have lots of reasons for asking questions.

And you can often tell when the question isn't a question. "Do I have to clean my room today?" It's in the tone, the emphasis, the facial expressions. I remember once being asked by my supervisor to perform some tests. I wanted to ask him why, not because I was protesting the work, but because I wanted to find out what he wanted to discover. That was a tough question to word because normally when a subordinate (a worker, a child, whatever) is told to do something and asks, "Why?", it is not a question for information.

What do you suppose would happen if we took Danny's advice? "Ask questions, listen to the answers." What if, when we're being rhetorical, someone offered an answer, and we listened? What if we actually took in the responses to our pointed questions rather than laying them down as a gauntlet? What if, for instance, husbands used questions regularly to "live with your wives in an understanding way" (1 Peter 3:7)? What if we asked more questions to learn than to attack, impress, opine, or whatever other reasons we tend to use them? Well, I guess I'll just wait for answers.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

As You Were

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3)
I've been mulling over this passage of late, as it happened to be in my daily reading.

I noted, first, that the chapter begins with "And". I suspect we might miss this since it's the beginning of a chapter, but it is clearly linked to something before it, a continuation of a previous thought. What thought? Well, Paul was just talking about his prayer for them. He wanted God to give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation regarding the nature of Christ so they would know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance, and the surpassing greatness of His power (Eph 1:17-19). Paul deviates momentarily from there, although not really a deviation, exulting in Christ, His resurrection, His rule, His dominion, and His Church, "the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:20-23). "And". That's where it comes in. "You need to know Christ who is beyond all and ..." And what? "And you were dead." What a contrast! What a division! What a distance! This "body of Christ" starts out "dead in sin." Nice! That's our beginnings. That makes the "But God" of Ephesians 2:4 absolutely immense!

So, we saw in the first chapter what Christ is. What are we? Where do we come from, this "body of Christ"? Dead. Walking in the course of this world. Following the prince of the power of the air. Living in the passion of our flesh. Satisfying our own desires. Oh, this isn't good. This isn't good at all. And don't go mitigating it. Don't tell me we were "mostly dead" as seems to be the favorite view among many. "Well," they tell me, "we weren't dead dead, so it can't mean that." So, they conclude, it means we weren't dead. "Oh," they'll agree, "it means we were spiritually dead", but from all indications that means nothing at all. We have all the spiritual capabilities we need. And that's not dead. No, it says "dead". And, odd as it may sound, it only gets worse from there. Humans are very real "dead men walking". Walking in sin. Ruled by Satan. Consumed by our own passions. I don't think anyone could suggest this isn't so, given our world today, where "I feel like it" is the only rule of reality and anyone who suggests denying "I feel like it" is a hater. This is the pool from which God makes "the body of Christ". Talk about a huge gap!

I've always been interested in that last phrase, though. He says we "were by nature children of wrath, like the rest." What does that mean? Well, it's not small. Whatever "children of wrath" means, it is a problem of nature. We weren't "children of wrath" by work, by practice, by effort, by education, by environment, by culture, by anything else. We were children of wrath by nature. It is by lineal descent, part of our genus. It is part of that which constitutes us. Now, note, the word there is "were"--past tense--so I am not saying that "children of wrath" is part of the definition of "human being". Can't be, or Jesus wasn't human. But it is surely part of that which constitutes sinful Man. The Bible uses this word in a variety of places, and it is always in the sense of a birth condition, the innate characteristics, how we are constructed, part of our "kind" (James 3:7).

So, what is that nature? What is part of our constitution? It is being "children of wrath". And what is that? It doesn't mean we are offspring of wrath. It means we are children under wrath. It means we, as dead, sinful followers of Satan, immersed in our own desires and following the world, fully deserve the wrath of God. It means we are people who deserve wrath; that is our nature. Thus, as sinners it is in our nature to deserve wrath.

And that is the pool out of which "God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ..." (Eph 2:4-7). I don't know about you, but looking at it more closely like this only makes God's grace and mercy so much bigger. But maybe that's just me.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Who did Cain Marry?

This question was the Achilles heel of the Scopes trial in 1925. It was without answer, proof that the Bible is in error. The biblical account couldn't have happened because Genesis lists Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel as the only people on the planet and then Cain kills his brother, goes over the hill, and marries. What?! Clearly couldn't be true. Is this true? Does the Bible require that the biblical account be false (or myth or ...)? Let's look.

First, my premise. The Bible is true as written. If a claim violates the Bible, it isn't true. If it's in there, it is true.

Here's what we do know: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen 1:1). We know that "All things were made through [Christ], and without Him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:3). I've seen some argue that Cain married a Neanderthal. This argument is premised on "God did not create all that exists" (this article argues that Satan created the "earlier races".), so we'll have to throw this concept out. So, what else do we know? Well, given that Adam and Eve were the proto-humans, the first of the line, then their offspring were all the available humans for marriage and family. Thus, let's just start out with the very clear conclusion (not text, but conclusion) that Cain married a relative. No other possible conclusion. And, of course, it must be true. If Adam and Eve were the first, then all of us are marrying relatives. We're just much more widely distanced in time and relation. In Cain's day, there wasn't the opportunity for such distance.

"But," you will tell me, "there is no mention of girls in the family. Isn't this a violation of the Bible?" Well, hold on. We read in Genesis that Adam and Eve "had other sons and daughters" (Gen 5:4). So there is mention of girls. No, it's not a violation. In fact, it was routine (continues to be today) to not mention people in stories, historical or otherwise, who are not germane to the story. And, in fact, to the culture of the time, women were typically not particularly relevant to the story, so they weren't mentioned. So Genesis 5:4 tells us they existed, it just doesn't tell us when or how many ... "other sons and daughters". So Cain married a close relative.

"But," you will complain, "that's incest. Everyone knows that incest is wrong." Well, it is today. And it was in Leviticus 18 when God handed down those rules to Israel through Moses. But, there is no record of any such rule prior to Moses. So Lot (by subterfuge, not intent) had sex with his daughters[1] (Gen 19:30-38) and Abraham was married to his half-sister (which didn't seem to raise God's ire). There are accounts of incest, both with and without negative conclusions, but all of the ones without negative connotations were prior to the Mosaic Law and, thus, were not a violation of God's instructions.

"So," you will enjoin me, "who did Cain marry?" Obviously we don't have a name. Here's what we do have. "Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch." (Gen 4:16-17). "Ah, then," you will argue (as so many do), "Cain's wife came from Nod, not from Adam's line." Why? Note that it says that Cain left and Cain dwelt and Cain "knew his wife". It does not say, "Cain found a wife in the land of Nod". It only says he "knew her"[2] there. So don't assume that there was a place named "Nod" populated by other people and Cain went there and found a wife. It's not in the text. If there were such a people, they would have to be direct descendants of Adam and Eve, and thus Cain's siblings or close relatives.

Part of our problem, I think, is laying modern perceptions over biblical history. For instance, in your mind, how old was Cain when he killed his brother? I suspect you'll have a young age in mind. Maybe 20 or 30 or something like it. Why? Because that's what we know. But these people weren't living the same lifespan we do. Adam was 130 when he fathered Seth (Gen 5:3) and lived another 800 years after that (Gen 5:4). Seth was a young 105 when he fathered Enosh (Gen 5:6) and lived another 807 years (Gen 5:7). I mean, these people are living for centuries. So if Cain, for example, killed Abel as a "young man" figuring in pre-Flood years, he could have been 100 (childbearing age for these people) and still have a long life ahead and plenty of other siblings around. Further, there is the problem of terminology. Here, let me show you. I have an older sister and younger siblings. Thus, you would say that my older sister is the "firstborn", and you would be right. However, in biblical terminology the "firstborn" was always a reference to the firstborn son. So, riddle me this. The Bible lists Cain as the firstborn (doesn't use the term, but he's the first son listed). Does that mean that Cain didn't have older sisters? We, in fact, cannot say. Their absence from the text doesn't indicate their absence from existence. Thus, there is no textual reason that Cain couldn't have had both older and younger sisters, even prior to Abel's birth.

Moving away then from our modern problems with ancient times, we find that incest at the time was a given, not a problem, that these people lived a lot longer than we do, and that there is no reason why Cain couldn't have had sisters--even older sisters. Given all this, the question of who Cain married becomes moot. He married a sister. Neither immoral nor illegal at the time. Necessary, in fact. It doesn't require a violation of biblical text which, say, a view that Cain married from another race of humans would demand. It may offend our sensibilities, but it doesn't transgress the biblical account and it leaves us with an answer that seems to plague too many people.
________
[1] Note that the Bible presenting such a story doesn't mean that it approves of it. Indeed, the offspring of this nasty event were the fathers of the Moabites and the Ammonites, two enemies of Israel. Not good.

[2] Everyone, I'm sure, understands the intent of "knew her", right? Even the unbeliever knows the concept, "Knew her in a biblical sense".

Friday, January 09, 2015

Altar Calls

Who does not know what an altar call is? An altar call is where the pastor or preacher or leader calls on the congregation or audience or crowd at hand to come forward and give their lives to Christ. That may be for a specific purpose--"Give up porn" or "Promise to be a better husband" or something like that--but most often it is for salvation. "Come forward and come to Christ."

I grew up in a Baptist church, so it was the norm for me. I went to Billy Graham crusades, so it was the norm for me. I figured everyone did it. It was generally the same. "With your heads bowed and your eyes closed, if anyone wants to come to Christ, get out of your seat and come up here and one of our pastors/elders/deacons/whatever will lead you in the prayer of salvation." That sort of thing. I remember in a Calvary Chapel once where the pastor boldly proclaimed, "No! This time I will not tell you to bow your heads and close your eyes. If you want to meet Christ, come down here in front of everyone and give your life to Him." Oh, and they came by the dozens. It's just what we do.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered the origin of the altar call. You see, it's not biblical. You won't find it in the pages of Scripture. It's not from the early church fathers. It's not part of the Nicene Creed or the Synod of Dort or any such thing. This phenomenon didn't actually see the light of day until the 1800's. What? How is that possible?

This staple of many churches today started in the Second Great Awakening. In the first (1730's and 1740's), no one knew how many were saved. George Whitefield was satisfied with, "I have determined to suspend my judgment 'til I know the tree by its fruits." But the second one wanted quantification. Now, many churches already had an altar at the front where people were invited to come if they needed prayer or encouragement, so this seemed like an easy option. This new concept of coming to the altar for salvation found its real power source in Charles Finney. Finney did not believe that humans were sinful by nature, so he sought to change their wills. Human depravity was "a voluntary attitude of the mind." He wrote, "A revival is not a miracle. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means." So one of the means he constituted was the "anxious bench" to urge people to act--a matter of the will--in order to be converted. It was a "new measure." Finney believed it "was necessary to bring [sinners] out from among the mass of the ungodly to a public renunciation of their sinful ways." And, by counting the numbers of people who came forward, revival was quantified.

Of course, Finney's "new measure" has become so mainstream now that few of us even realize that it's the product of faulty theology ("The sin nature is just a voluntary attitude of the mind."). But, along with the prevalence of the procedure, I'm pretty sure that most of us know those who have "gone forward" and "given my life to Christ" only to end up abandoning the faith. Indeed, I think this reality itself is as prevalent as the procedure. Isn't that an indication of a problem?

Don't get me wrong. The Bible contains calls to "Come." Jesus promised, "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt 11:28). We are told to do things for salvation, like believe and repent and "Be reconciled to God!" (2 Cor 5:20). Indeed, belief is a command (Mark 1:15), not a suggestion. And Scripture further endorses public confession of faith (Matt 10:32-33). Salvation requires confession with the mouth (Rom 10:9). But none of this has anything to say about the altar call.

The question is the value of the altar call. I think the fundamental question there is the question of salvation. Are we saved by making a decision, by responding to an altar call, by "coming forward"? Some worry, "What about the guy who leaves without making a decision?" Is God limited by the geography? Or are we saved by Christ? Note that in all of the "Come" commands the requirement is to "Come to Me" It is to Christ we must come to be saved. Not to the front of the church or the tent or the stadium. Nor are we saved by an emotional response evidenced by a rush to the front of the church. We are saved by a divine work that changes the heart, wrought from faith and repentance, not the Sinner's Prayer. Nor are we saved by the preacher giving the invitation. Do sinners need mediation? Sure. "How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom 10:14). Words are necessary. Declaring the truth in love is necessary. Expressing the Gospel is necessary. But in the end, no one is saved by the preacher or his fine altar call. The message of the cross is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18). And, as has been pointed out by others, it is not a profession of faith, but the possession of it that saves.

I'm concerned about the altar call. I think it is predicated on a false theology that encourages a change of will that produces a change of heart rather than the reverse. I think it encourages the belief that we are saved by what we do. I think it engenders the notion that God is limited by our actions--whether it be the preacher or the sinner--to bring about salvation. I fear that it gives people the false confidence that "I went forward; I must be saved." And I am concerned that the newness of what we think of as a "given" points to a potentially serious problem. Yes, we need to preach the Gospel (Mark 16:15). More importantly, we need to make disciples (Matt 28:19) "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt 28:20). I think that altar calls encourage "hit and run" conversions that are actually not conversions at all. Because I have heard far too often, "I tried that and it didn't work." And, frankly, such a thing is not possible.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Please Let It Go

I like a cappella music and I've enjoyed the sounds of a particular group called the Pentatonix, so my wife got me their recent Christmas CD ... you know, for Christmas. Fun listening. But the last song on the CD was the theme song from Disney's Frozen, Let it Go. In December the director of the movie apologized to parents for the song. Okay, sort of. Jennifer Lee laughed about how the song is everywhere, in everything, over and over and over. Their kids are listening to it without end. At the writing of this entry the official Disney video has had nearly 300 million hits. Very popular. Now, I'd never paid much attention, but my wife liked playing the CD repeatedly over the holidays, so I got to hear it more than once, and suddenly I was really concerned. Have you heard it? Have you listened to the lyrics? One commenter on Youtube hit the nail on the head. "I personally love it," she said, "because I can relate to it so much (religious family, strict rules I guess), and it's just beautiful." She heard the lyrics.

If you haven't seen it (and I applaud you for it), the movie is based on Hans Christian Andersen's tale, The Snow Queen. (I think if you'd ever read the story, you'd be hard-pressed to explain the correlation between the two.) The two main characters are princess sisters Elsa (the older) and Anna. Elsa, as it turns out, has some sort of special powers to freeze stuff. Playing with her younger sister, she almost kills her. So the younger is revived by trolls, her memory of it erased, and Elsa is forced to hide from Anna to avoid hurting her again. When Anna decides to marry Prince Hans, Elsa accidentally exposes her powers and flees the castle in a panic while engulfing the kingdom in eternal winter. And on her way she sings her cute little ditty, "Let it Go". Her point?

She bemoans her loss of control.
Couldn't keep it in, heaven knows I tried.
She bemoans her previous efforts to "be the good girl".
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
But now she's free.
Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don't care
What they’re going to say
Poor Elsa. Originally controlled by fear of doing bad things to people she loved, she sings,
It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can't get to me at all.
Released now from fear and "good", she exults in her new freedom.
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free.
Who knows? There may be redeeming messages in the movie. Anna forgives and forgives her sister and even is ready to sacrifice her own life to save Elsa. Good stuff. And it's true that artificial limits can be a problem, preventing people from reaching their potential, and this would address that. But that is not the message of this song. This song specifies "no right, no wrong, no rules for me." This song is about moral values--any values at all. "The only value worth having is whatever I want." It plays in the sinner's heart because this is exactly what the father of lies wants us to believe.

"Oh, come on, Stan," I hear, "it's a movie from 2013. What's the harm? It's over." You'd think so. But it was on Pentatonix's Christmas album this year. It is still getting play and Youtube hits. And it is precisely the message that a large segment of the world wants you to hear and believe. "So, should we ban it?" No, of course not. But I would suggest you pay attention to the stuff you're feeding into your mind--or your children's minds--even when it's cloaked in "Disney" garb. Oh, and just so you know, "No right, no wrong, no rules for me" is not freedom; it's anarchy.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Seven Things I May Never Understand

There are just things out there in my world that seem to make no sense to me. Will they ever? So, in no particular order, here are 7 things I may never understand.

1. I cannot fathom an atheist who makes bold assertions about the immorality of a divine being whom he or she says doesn't exist and without which there is no basis for assertions about morality.

2. I don't get people who are judgmental and intolerant of those they deem judgmental and intolerant.

3. I can't figure out practical atheists. You know what that is, right? They're the ones that claim to believe in God and maybe even love Him, but they live as if He doesn't exist, isn't looking, or doesn't care. I can't figure out how to put those two views--love and ignore--together.

4. I will never understand those who say, "We love the Bible and revere the word of God" while arguing that the Bible is full of myths and legends and errors and it would be wrong to claim you can even know for sure what is correct.

5. How do people tell you, "You have to be careful about injecting your own opinion into the Bible" but insist that they're view of "this passage" is right and yours is not? Not because they have any textual, critical, or logical reason. They just are. And you're not.

6. I am stunned by folk who condemn you for being certain--certain that "The Bible says..." or "God says..." or "It's right/wrong to..." or the like--while being certain that they're right about that particular subject.

7. Why do so many people assure you you're wrong without giving anything more than an assurance that you're wrong? No reasons. No logic. No evidence. Perhaps an emotional plea. But nothing concrete or even compelling. Why does that happen so often?

I understand a lot of things in this existence of ours. There are a lot of things I don't. Quite often it has to do with people and how they think. More often I suspect it has to do with sin. Maybe I understand these things better than I think?

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Setting up for 2016

This is an odd story. The headline reads, "McCain Wages 'All-Out War' to Rid Arizona GOP of Tea Party". It tells of an effort on the part of "Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain's team" to solidify his bid for a sixth term in 2016 ... by eliminating the opposition.

Now, that's odd, isn't it? "In January, members of the state committee lead by tea party supporters formally censured the 2008 GOP presidential nominee for not being conservative enough, particularly on the issues of immigration and the Affordable Care Act." Now, that upset the man. I get it. But he didn't defend himself. He didn't say that he was conservative enough. He didn't argue that his positions on immigration or Obamacare were the right positions. There was no defense or explanation. There was merely attack. His team ousted the author of the resolution and set to work removing any detractors. They marginalized the opposition without bothering to explain or defend their positions.

Nice. I suppose this helps ease my questions of who to support in 2016. Or, perhaps, who not to.

Monday, January 05, 2015

A Thought Exercise

Ever since I was very young I've understood that I am ... inferior. My first thought of suicide was around the age of 8. Of course, since I'm inferior, I was too scared to carry it through. But I've always known. My younger brother was the smart one. My younger sister was the pretty one. My friends were the smart and pretty ones. I was neither. I graduated from high school in a class of around 500 and I was only 25th in the class. Two of my closest friends shared the title of valedictorian. I knew I was inferior.

I tried talking to people about it, Christians and non. They wouldn't listen. Oh, they'd listen, but then they'd tell me I was wrong or confused or looking at it wrong. Some would be gentle and try to help me see that I was off in my calculations and others would be angry and tell me they didn't want anything to do with me or to confess my sin and get right with God. But no one ever said, "Yes, you're inferior. Learn to embrace it and stop living up to higher expectations." Why?

So my life has been an accumulation of evidence that I'm right, that I'm not who I appear to be. I appear to be a confident, intelligent, capable individual, but in truth--in my secret heart--I know otherwise. I've talked to so-called friends about it and they tell me I'm wrong. I've talked to pastors about it and they tell me I'm wrong. I even talked to a psychologist about it and he told me I was wrong. So why can't I find people who will embrace me for the loser that I am? Why can't I find those who will tell me, "Don't ever let anyone tell you you're not a loser."? Why does everyone think I'm wrong on this and they're right? Why can't they just accept me for who I am? Fix society, please.
________
P.S. See if you can find a parallel.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Love the Lord your God

And He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matt 22:37)
It's called "the great and first commandment" (Matt 22:38). Now, that doesn't mean it occurred first chronologically. It just means that it's "Commandment #1". But ... what is it? You see, there are difficulties.

First, it is a quote from Deuteronomy: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." (Deut 6:5). You will note, then, that it is not the same. Oh, the intent is all there, but the Matthew version says "heart, soul, and mind" while the Deuteronomy version says "heart, soul, and might".

And what are we supposed to do?

Well, we can see that two terms are common--"heart" and "soul". We all know that "heart" doesn't refer to the organ that pumps blood. The biblical concept of "heart" is a reference to the center of a person. It is primarily the core of all emotional, intellectual, and moral activities. Thus, "the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man." (Matt 15:18). It is largely inaccessible, even deceived (Jer 17:9). That's why we need a new one (Ezek 36:26). And with that innermost component we are to love God.

So what is the "soul"? That one's a bit sticky. The Bible uses "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably much of the time. There are only a few times when they are distinct. One is in Paul's first epistle to the church at Thessalonica where he says, "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess 5:23). The other is in Hebrews where we read, "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb 4:12). Apparently, while soul and spirit are closely interlinked, there is a division. So what is the soul? The word is ψυχή--psuchē--from whence we get our word, "psyche". It refers at its core to breath. It is, then, that which gives us life. When the soul departs, so does life. It refers to the seat of feelings, desires, the will. It is you, that which comprises your personality and ego. It is the inner man. We are to love God with our feelings, our desires, and our choices--with who we are.

So what about all this other confusion? Is it mind or might? The answer is ... Yes! In Mark's version Jesus says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30). Luke's version is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind." (Luke 10:27). Well, that's convenient! This one has all the parts of all the accounts.

I think, in the final analysis, it doesn't really matter about the particulars here. I think it is abundantly clear that the great and first commandment is simply to love God with everything you have and are. Do you have a brain? Use it to love God. Do you have a body? Use it to love God. Do you have strength? Use it to love God. All that is within you should be focused on your love for God. Maybe that helps clear up the question. Or maybe you never had a question. But, are you doing it?

Saturday, January 03, 2015

America's New Constitution

Here's a new one. Well, it starts out not so new. The courts have outlawed marriage in Florida[1]. They have upheld something else not yet clear. And it's been happening all over the country. But the reason is interesting. "Specifically, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, clarifying a previous order, ruled that all Florida clerks are bound by the U.S. Constitution not to enforce Florida's gay marriage ban[2] and that any couple seeking a license should receive one."

Wait ... when did the U.S. Constitution concur that "marriage" is no longer defined as it has always been defined and is now applied to ... whatever it is now applied to? Where is that in the Constitution? Oh, don't tell me your "equal rights" baloney. You have to be 18 to marry. Why are 17-year-olds not allowed? Where are their equal rights? You can't marry your dog or your pillow or your favorite roller coaster (I chose all those because they've been tried). Where are their equal rights? You can't marry a male and a female. Where are the equal rights for bisexuals? People into polygamy or polyamory can't marry as many people as they choose. Where are their equal rights? Oh, no, this isn't a constitutional issue. It isn't an issue of equal rights.

Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it bind anyone to radically alter the meanings of words and concepts like "marriage" in order to give this new concept with old wording to others who haven't had it before. No one believes in "equal rights" in that sense[3]. So why this one issue? (Rhetorical question.)

Postscript
Normally I put a label on posts like this with something like "same-sex marriage" or the like. I didn't. This isn't about that. This is about the lie that this is a constitutional issue, a "marriage equity" affair. Oh, it's an affair, but it's not about equality.
________
[1] "Now, Stan," I hear already, "they haven't outlawed marriage." When you take a word ... say, "blue" ... and you define it as "my dog" and indicate that anyone using that concept of "blue" must use it with "my dog" in mind, you have outlawed "blue", at least in its original form. You haven't merely expanded it. You've redefined it, eliminating the original definition.

[2] Apparently the Constitution does not address enforcement of the "ban" on every other form of marriage that we can imagine.

[3] Think I'm wrong there? Try it out. Try redefining ... oh, I don't know ... "pedophile" as "anyone who loves children" and see how they like it when those who love children go to prison for being pedophiles. No, they only buy into that redefinition nonsense as long as it suits their personal preferences.

Friday, January 02, 2015

The Word of God

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
Have you ever wondered what it means when it says that Jesus "was the Word"? In what sense is He "the Word"?

Some will tell you that the Bible isn't the "Word of God"; Jesus is. Others say that it's just that He spoke what God said to speak. Most won't argue that He couldn't be both "the Word of God" and "God" because, well, it specifies that He was both, but more than a few try to conflate "Jesus" into "the Word of God" to move "the Bible" out of that category.

Do we have any reason to think that the Bible is the word of God? Well, yes. The Bible refers to itself as the word of God. Solomon said, "Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him." (Prov 30:5). Jesus referred to the Old Testament as "the word of God" (Matt 15:6). Paul said that the Scriptures are "God-breathed" (2 Tim 3:16-17). (And Peter referred to Paul's writings as "Scripture" (2 Peter 3:14-16).) The word of God is called "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph 6:17). Breathed by God, recognized by Christ and the Apostles, tested in every way, the Bible is surely the word of God.

So ... how is Jesus "the Word"? The answer to this question is also the reason why I am so concerned about words and their meanings. John said that Jesus was the λόγος, the logos. The Greek word refers to anything said and, by implication, reasoning and communication. But you must understand the basic concept of a "word". Words, you see, are not real. Words are expressions of something. They are symbols by which we transmit our thoughts. They are expressions of ideas. And that is the concept in view when it says that Jesus was "the Word". Jesus was the expression of God. That's why He said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Jesus said, "I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me." (John 12:49-50). Jesus was the living expression of God: "The Word".

When we cannot agree on a definition of a word, we cannot transmit the idea that word expresses. When we fail to comprehend the difference in definitions in what would seem to be common terms like "love", "marriage", even "truth", we lose the ability to interact with each other on the ideas they express. So words are important. And when we fail to get Jesus right, we fail to get an accurate expression of God. A Jesus who condones sin compared with a God who does not isn't an accurate expression of God. A Jesus who sets aside what God did in the past is not an accurate expression of God. But Jesus was the Word, a completely accurate expression of God. That's where we need to go.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Helpful Resolutions

Every year New Years brings the pressure to make resolutions. You know, things you promise to do to make yourself better ... or something like it. And every year we know we won't keep them. It's a given. Indeed, the one who does keep that kind of a resolution is the anomaly.

What kind of resolutions, then, might be helpful? What would be worth actually pursuing? Not like "I'm going to work out" or "lose weight" or "quit smoking" or that kind of thing. No, something more helpful, more useful, more ... biblical. Like, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psa 51:10) See? That's a good one. Biblical. Doable. And beneficial. Well, maybe not "doable" because, after all, it is a request for God to do something.

How about "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:12-13)? There, now, see? Isn't that better? Now there's something you can do. Well, sort of. You can "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" and, indeed, ought to be doing that every single day, but in truth, again, we see it is something that God does in you. So it's ... cooperative. And biblical. And beneficial.

Oh, here's one. "One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:13-14). Good one! You do it. Well, you don't actually award the prize. But you get the idea.

Look, there are lots of reasonably good resolutions that we believers can undertake that come straight out of the Bible. That makes them, by definition, good resolutions. Beneficial. And since all good is that which is done by God's power for God's glory, these would be very good things to do. And doable. Why not see what you can find?