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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Is Christmas Dead?

I've heard it for years. You know, the complaints from Christians about Christmas. They range from "It's too commercial" to "It's too pagan." Is it true? Is Christmas a mistake for Christians to recognize? I mean, look, no one knows the date of Jesus's birth. December 25th? Well, maybe, maybe not. "Jesus came to save us. Why don't we just focus on that and leave all this commercial nonsense alone?" (I actually heard that.) Is Christmas dead? At least spiritually? I don't think so.

"But, look," I'm sure some are saying, "you know that our Christmas traditions all come from pagan celebrations, don't you?" No, actually, I don't. Oh, we've been sold that story for a long time -- so long we're believing it. But it's just not true. The first Christmas trees weren't documented until the 1600's, not the day of the druids or Babylonians or whatever. "It's all part of the Saturnalia celebration, don't you know?" No, I don't.

One of the key concepts in the New Testament, repeated over and over, even by Jesus Himself, was Jesus in the Old Testament. By that I mean the New Testament repeatedly claims that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One from the Old Testament. New Testament authors repeatedly point to Old Testament Scriptures to show how Jesus met the prophecies. Jesus Himself did that (Luke 24:27). If He thought it was important, I think I should also. As such, much of the story of His Incarnation is fulfillment of Scripture. It's in there. His virgin birth (Isa 7:14), birthplace (Mic 5:2), heritage (Gen 12:3; Gen 17:19; Num 24:17; Gen 49:10), His naming (Isa 7:14), His flight to Egypt (Hos 11:1), the deaths of the children in Bethlehem (Jer 31:15), and more are part of the prophecies fulfilled by Christ in the Christmas story. I think that's important.

One of the key concepts of His death and resurrection is that He died in our place. As it turns out, that could only be done by a human, not a deity. Only a sinless man could pay the debt for sinful Man.

Because something is used improperly does not mean that it should not be used at all. You know that. When folks in the name of Christ carry out atrocities, large and small, you can't conclude, "Well, I guess Christianity is false." In the same way, because the world has turned Christmas into a commercial enterprise, even banning Christmas in the process, doesn't mean that Christmas is wrong. The question is is it dead? Does Christmas -- the story of Christ's Incarnation -- have any reality or value in Christianity? I think it clearly does. So the next question is for you. Are you going to see it through the eyes of a hostile world or for what it really is, the story of the Incarnation -- God becoming flesh to dwell among us? Your call.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Desires

Paul writes to the Ephesians about Christian living. He contrasts the unbeliever with the believer when he says "you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds" (Eph 4:17). They operate in darkened understanding and alienation from God due to internal ignorance and hardness of heart (Eph 4:18). "But that is not the way you learned Christ," he says (Eph 4:20). How, then?

"Put off your old self," he says (Eph 4:22). That old self is part of the former life and "is corrupt through deceitful desires." Instead we should "be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph 4:23-24).

Imagine that! Old self? Shed like a set of dirty clothes. "Corrupt." We don't think like the old self, but are "renewed in the spirit of your minds." The new self is in the likeness of God. That's something.

I'm interested in that depiction of our desires. The old self gives itself to sensuality, greedily practicing every kind of impurity (Eph 4:19). That's easy to see; just look around you. It's the everyday news. But Paul calls those desires "deceitful". Really? You know it. We are promised joy and satisfaction in all those things. Take this drug, drink this drink, do this act ... we're quite sure this will be good. Fulfilling. And it is! For about two seconds. Then it's not. We need more. More drugs, more alcohol, more sex, more money, more power -- more. We think indulging our desires will bring happiness and instead it brings dissatisfaction. "Greed", essentially, means "not enough" and that's us. Satan holds out the promise of happy living his way -- Satan, the father of lies. These are "deceitful desires."

Paul contrasts here two lifestyles. One is characterized by futile thinking and the pursuit of personal pleasure. The other is characterized by "the new self" with a renewed mind, a living reflection of God "in true righteousness and holiness." The "deceitful desires" are set aside and replaced with new desires from God. That's what we need, you see. Desires from God. Which is it with you? Is your primary pursuit your own pleasures, or is it something new?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Unto Us a Child is Born

She wasn't from this country. She was a Jewish convert. "What's all this stuff about Christmas?" she asked. "I worship Yeshua, my Savior. Why all this stuff about His birthday, wise men, angels, shepherds? Seems like a waste of time." Interesting question.

Christmas is important to me. Not December 25th as much as the fact that He came, that He was born. His arrival is as important to me as the end of His ministry, His death and resurrection. Partly because He came. We needed that. Partly because He came as a child. Lest we forget, we needed that, too. Partly because His arrival was the glorious collision of many prophesies regarding the coming Messiah. All at once. The virgin birth. The place. The lowly nature of it. The events. All of it.

I suppose, however, that the birth of Christ is important to me because of the distance He traveled, so to speak. Remember, He was "in the form of God" (Phil 2:6). He didn't think it was something He had to cling to. Instead, He "emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:7). If that isn't staggering, you aren't paying attention. From the Almighty to that tiny baby born that first Christmas. Born not only to be human, but to humble Himself further to that ultimate end of death on my behalf.

"Unto us a child is born," Isaiah wrote (Isa 9:6). Any rational being would have considered that foolhardy, a colossal mistake on the part of God the Father. He placed His Son in our hands. But this one is called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." And He humbled Himself even to death on the cross. For me. And you.

"What's all this stuff about Christmas?" she asked. That. That right there. I don't like the tinsel and commercialism and the banning of Christ from Christmas. (I mean, what's the point of "Merry mas"?) But I love it for what it truly represents -- my salvation.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

News Weakly - 12/8/2018

Official Democrat Statement on the Religious
The Massachusetts Democratic Party has passed a resolution "regarding the religiously unaffiliated demographic" that, I think, says a lot about the Democrats and their view (as a group) of Christianity. The resolution states that the largest religious group in the Democratic Party (28%) is the "Nones," those with no religious affiliation. "Nones" include atheists, agnostics, and the "spiritual" who are not connected with any religion. It states that those with religious views have "misplaced claims of 'religious liberty'" and use their views to threaten the civil rights and liberties of many Americans including the LGBT, women, and ethnic groups. It claims that people with those views are "threatening not only the United States but the entire planet."

Now, really, why don't you tell us what you really think?

Climate Change Causes Riots
Oh, that's not the headline they're using. But ... France saw some of the worst rioting in recent history this week. "Yellow jackets," far right and left, and anarchists burned and destroyed nicer parts of Paris because they are opposed to President Macron's fuel tax hikes, "necessary he says to combat climate change," and more. The elite in America poo-poo "climate deniers." People in France riot because the president strongly believes in it.
Postscript
If you've followed this story, you know that the French president gave in to the rioters and withdrew the taxes necessary to solving climate change. In deep gratitude, the rioters ... "took to the streets of Paris for a third weekend of violence and looting." Because as we all know, giving in to the violent evil amongst us is the best way to ... reward it and keep it coming.

Inexcusable
Kid Rock was fired from the Nashville Christmas parade because of a comment he made about ultraliberal Joy Behar. No, not a nice comment. But the single expletive was enough to get him removed from the job. Because insulting a woman of the caliber of Joy Behar is inexcusable. Insulting the president's daughter is fine and suggesting the beheading of the president is fine, but not insulting Joy. When folks like Samantha Bee and Kathy Griffin can proceed essentially without much consequence from much worse things against conservative figures, it makes you wonder how "justice" in these cases is determined.

This is What We've Come To
A cute and traditional winter song is no longer acceptable. WDOK Christmas 102.1 in Cleveland has banned Baby, It's Cold Outside from their playlist because it's "date-rapey". I mean, look. One character (It has been sung both with the male as lead and female as lead) says, "Say, what's in this drink?" See? "Date-rapey." That same character clearly says, "The answer is no." We all know, "No means no." And the other character keeps asking them to stay. Definitely inappropriate. The public has spoken. And we've lost all sanity on the subject. What next? Cancel The Christmas Story because of the bullying scenes?



Identity Fail
In the consummate double standards that rule the day, it turns out that Emile Ratelband is still 69. He was the guy who felt 20 years younger, so he sued to get his age changed. In this case "I identify as" doesn't rule the day. So our society will continue to choose when "identity" wins ("the opposite gender", "homosexual", etc.) and when it doesn't (another race, another age1, etc.), and it is still completely arbitrary. The definition of "truth" is "that which correlates to reality." We like our lies way too much to give them up now. "Who are you going to believe? Me or reality?" Depends.

I'm Just Sayin'
The reports are out. Apparently archaeologists 50 years ago found a 2,000-year-old ring. They cleaned it up recently and found it had an inscription that indicates it belonged to Pontius Pilate. You know, like, "Yeah, we told you so." Well, okay, maybe not. I mean, it doesn't take an archaeological discovery for me to believe. But it is interesting. Science keeps coming up with evidence. I'm just sayin'.
________
1 Even age appears to be negotiable, as in the case of the 50-something father who identifies as a 6-year-old girl who was adopted by a family (as a 6-year-old girl) to be the younger sister of their 8-year-old. Go figure.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Countercultural

Counterculture (noun): the culture and lifestyle of those people, especially among the young, who reject or oppose the dominant values and behavior of society.

You know this one, right? In my day they were the hippies. Now they're the "goths" or the gangs, the KKK or the homeschooling movement, the "alt-right" or the "alt-left." They were the Abolitionists and the Suffragettes and the Anarchists. Unlike the sub-culture, where they have a noted pattern within the culture, like tattoos, piercings, or neon-orange hair, these are the ones who identify themselves as "this group" that is counter to the existing status quo. We know them. But ... are we them?

John wrote, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world" (1 John 2:15-16). Biblically we who love the Father ought not to "love the world." Now, let's be careful about that. It isn't intended to convey not loving people or even not loving nature around us or something like that. "The world" in this context is a reference to the values and norms of a sinful universe, "the world" as a system opposed to God. In this sense, we should be "countercultural," right?

Here's the problem with "countercultural." It is defined as that which is in opposition to dominant values and behavior. It is defined, then, by what it rejects or opposes. Is that what we're supposed to be? I don't think so. I think too often we are. We are not called to oppose the world or its systems. We are called to go another direction. In Galatians, for instance, Paul contrasts "walk by the Spirit" with "gratify the desires of the flesh" (Gal 5:16-25). He doesn't say, "Oppose the latter." He tells us we ought to be walking by the Spirit. That means that we will have a different character (Gal 5:22-23). We will not be like those of the flesh, but neither will we aim at opposing them. We are not called to change the world by legislation or other means or to oppose the world. We are called to be something different so that God can change others. We are told not to love the world system, but that means we are to work in such a way as to glorify the Father (Matt 5:16). We aren't to be living against something, but living for Christ. We should not be counter to the culture, but in contrast to the culture.

As believers we will be "countercultural" -- living an identity that is not this world's system. (If we are not, "the love of the Father is not in you.") If there is precious little difference between your lifestyle and that of the world around you, you might want to examine that issue. As for us, we will not be focused in opposition to this world's system. The difference in how we live should bring glory to the Father and salt and light to the world. I think we (me included) often miss this. Are we noted for what we oppose or for what we live for?

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Success and Failure

You know the story by now of John Chau. He was a young man who fervently intended to take the gospel to a group of people on a remote island who had never heard it. He wanted to "evangelize" them -- to take them the good news. From all indications, he failed ... miserably. He visited once, escaped with his life, went back the next day, and did not escape with his life. There was no reason to believe he brought them the gospel and we're quite sure he didn't survive the encounter. Failure. Right?

We're pretty confident we know what "success" and "failure" mean, but I'm pretty confident we're often wrong. The way we measure success and failure appears often to differ with the way God does. As God clearly indicated, "The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (I Sam 16:7). I'm pretty sure the same is true in success and failure.

Take, for instance, the story of this church I know about. A young itinerant preacher came on the scene. He made a bit of a splash. He was unusual in his presentation and in his words. He gathered several followers and began his "mission". He had healing skills and could do some reportedly remarkable things. Within a year he had growing crowds coming to hear him preach. Thousands at a time would show up. Right now we would say that this young man was "successful". Soon, however, he ran afoul of the local authorities. They didn't like some of what he said and some of what he did. They started to hound him. At the same time, some of what he said and did started to offend his own followers. He went from a dozen to hundreds to thousands of followers, but when he was arrested, they all fled and he was alone. He was taken into custody and summarily executed. At this point, we'd say that this young man was a "failure" and his movement a bust.

I am, of course, speaking about Christ. He didn't meet our expectations of "success" and "failure". But there isn't the slightest question as to the success of His mission. Though it cost Him His life, that cost was His absolute success. We, you see, are the ones who are confused about success and failure.

We continue to mess this up. We tend to think that a successful church is a big church. Not necessarily (even likely) so. We tend to think that the missionary who dies without sharing the gospel with one person was a failure. Not necessarily so. We tend to think that if we aren't in the front of things in ministry or service, we're not successful. Not necessarily so (1 Cor 12:1-27). Perhaps we would do well to serve our Master where He puts us and accept from Him the success He gives us and call that "sufficient" instead of some other, unnecessary measurements we try that don't really measure anything God cares about.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Ministry of Reconciliation

This week I wrote how "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor 5:19). We've run over that so many times that I suspect we aren't even seeing it. So let's look.

What is "reconciliation"? Basically, it is the restoration of friendly relations. Included -- required -- in that concept is that we do not currently have friendly relations. So there is a conflict that has to be settled. In the topic at hand, then, who has the conflict? God and us. Who is at fault? Us. So who has to do the reconciling? Us.

But, wait! Do you see that this is not what Paul wrote? He said that God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ. Our conflict -- a massive sin debt -- was in need of reconciliation and God paid the price. God the Son canceled the debt we couldn't begin to pay off.

This is all wrong. God isn't supposed to do the reconciling; we are. God isn't supposed to pay the price; we are. God is the offended party; we need to make that right. But, of course, we can't. He did. Jesus redeemed us (Rom 3:24) when we were sinners (Rom 3:23). Jesus was "put forward as a propitiation by His blood" by God (Rom 3:25).

I don't know how to express my wonder and gratitude at that. I don't even know if I've communicated it sufficiently. Our self-righteousness gets in the way. Our "I'm not such a bad person" trips us up. "Why wouldn't He?" comes into play. None of it is rational or truthful. That God the Father would send God the Son to die on my behalf to restore friendly relations between us and fill me with God the Spirit is beyond my comprehension. But ... I'll take it. And be grateful for it. And I'll pass it on; that's the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18).

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

If I Got What I Wanted

Have you ever imagined if the world was exactly what we all seem to want it to be? You know, what they call "the best possible world." I doubt that any of us would actually want it if we got it.

You know what I'm talking about. Bad things happen. Or good things don't. Loved ones die. Dear people get injured or sick. We lose jobs, stuff, relationships. We want X and we pray dearly for X and ... we don't get X. In fact, sometimes we get Z instead. Like that was the answer we were hoping for. But what if all that we expected from God we got?

I think we couldn't imagine the consequences of such an existence. Never mind the problem of trying to worship a Holy Butler. If we arrive at the point where we dictate what God will do, then we will be God.

Then, of course, you have the obvious problem of conflicting prayers. "Lord, we need rain for our crops." "Lord, we need clear skies for our family vacation." Which will it be? But that would be the least difficult of the problems.

If death is one of our biggest problems, what would it be like without it? People complain about crowded conditions, but if no one ever died, you could not imagine what that would be like. "Oh, no," someone might counter, "we'd just stop having children." That's all well and good, except we're operating here on a "whatever I want" basis and lots of people want children. Conversely, if we stopped having children, the joy of parenthood would vanish. No win.

One serious casualty would be gratitude. If we always get what we want, we would always expect to get what we want and whatever we got would be expected, not appreciated.

A problem for humans is that we don't understand consequences. We can't really see the future. So we think up "good things" that we're sure would be helpful and positive and they turn out to be destructive and fatal. Take, for instance, cohabitation. "We want to live together first to see if we are compatible." Seems simple, even reasonable. Except that, as it turns out, people who live together before marriage have a 50%-80% higher likelihood of divorce than those who don't. So in working to "test the waters", it seems, you poison the well (so to speak). (And, oh, by the way, having your first child after marriage reduces divorce risk somewhere between 24%-66%.)

We think we know what's best. We don't. We think we know how all things should work together for good. We don't. Jesus taught, "Pray then like this: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven'" (Matt 6:9-10). Really? Do we want His kingdom to come, or would we like to just establish our own? Do we really want His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? Because in heaven His will is executed perfectly and completely every time. Is that what you want?

I cannot imagine a world predicated on "what I want." That, I suppose, is because I concur that I have a deceitful heart (Jer 17:9), that I am a man in need of saving. I like to think that I'm pretty good at this kind of stuff, but the truth is the best I ever get is agreeing with God. What He does is good and right and best. Just because I can't always see it doesn't make it not so. I don't always understand what He's doing, but I do know I'm not the one that should be telling Him what's best. I'm pretty sure you aren't that one either. So I'll just trust Him, even when it isn't comfortable. It turns out, I believe, that this is the "best possible world."

Monday, December 03, 2018

Burden of Proof

The term, "burden of proof", refers to the obligation to prove one's statements. In our legal system, the burden of proof -- the obligation to prove their claims -- rests on the prosecution. Without sufficient proof, the defendant is innocent ("innocent until proven guilty"). Here's the problem. What constitutes "proof"?

I've been told that all understanding of Scripture is pure opinion, not fact, and cannot be claimed to be fact because it cannot be proven. That is, "You're making claims about what Scripture says; you have the burden of proof." But that's not all that is being said. Included is the claim, "It cannot be proven." So "You have the burden of proof" is followed by "It can't be proven" and we are given an impossible task. Under this particular method of reasoning, then, there is no actual, reasonable claim to anything biblical as fact. Did Jesus say what it says He says or not? Can't know for sure. Did Elijah actually call down fire from heaven? Can't know for sure. Is the Bible actually God's Word as it claims to be? Can't know for sure. Was there an actual Adam? Can't know for sure. When Jesus said, "No man comes to the Father but by Me," did He actually mean that no man comes to the Father but by Him, or did He mean something else entirely? Can't know for sure. Those who claim to know answers to these questions do so from a false impression that their opinions are facts because none of it can be proven. Of particular note is that last thought. No proof is possible. Ergo, no fact can be known in regards to Scripture.

I played that game when I was younger. "Prove it!" It didn't matter what they claimed. I would answer, "Prove it!" "My name is Jim." "Prove it!" "I have a birth certificate to prove it." "Prove it!" And so on. It didn't matter what the claim was, what the reasoning behind it was, or what evidence was presented. As long as I questioned all of them, there was no proof possible.

Proof, you see, is a tricky thing. The dictionary defines proof as "evidence sufficient to establish a thing as true, or to produce belief in its truth." Do you see the problem? "Sufficient to establish a thing as true, to produce belief in its truth" depends on the willingness of the listener to believe. If the listener is unwilling to believe, no evidence or argument is sufficient and proof is impossible. So "the burden of proof" becomes impossible if the audience refuses to allow it. That's why our courts use the standard, "beyond a reasonable doubt." Except, of course, nowadays "reasonable doubt" is vague and variable. And so it is in biblical interpretation.

So, here's how it goes. I say, "The text says X" and I say, "The context says X" and I say, "X is the same thing said over and over everywhere else in the Bible" and I say, "X has been the historical, traditional, orthodox position" and I conclude, "X is true." "No!!" they deny. "That's your opinion, your idea, your 'hunch'. It is not fact!" So you, the outsider in this conversation, let me ask you. Did I present evidence? I think I did. Did I provide rationale? I think I did. So for you, in your mind, what would constitute "proof"? There is text, context, the whole text of Scripture, the history of the textual understanding, and more. What is required to consider it "proven"? Or is the burden of proof in these matters an impossible task? Can we never actually know what is true? Is proof nonexistent? Shall we always be asking, "Did God really say ...?" and concluding, "Can't be sure."? What is the measure of "proof"? Is it "beyond reasonable doubt" or is it "only if everyone agrees" or something else? I would say that the requirement of proof while disallowing the possibility of proof is a nonsensical concept. Further, I would say that a God who gives us His Word without giving us anything reliable with which to grasp even the simplest concepts is a sketchy God.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

In Recognition of Christmas

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul writes, "While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom 5:6). That is remarkable. He goes on to talk about how it is reasonable that someone might give their life for a good person, "... but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). That, dear reader, is a big "but". That same "but" shows up over in Ephesians. There Paul describes us as "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" (Eph 2:1-2). Again we read, "But God" where he says,
But 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 — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-7)
A really, really big "but". It constitutes a significant break between "what we're like" and "what God is like." It demonstrates the immensity of His grace and mercy and love and kindness.

In Paul's second letter to Corinth we read, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor 5:19). Adam's sin brought sin to all (Rom 5:12) and Christ's death reconciled us to God (Rom 5:10). Did you catch that? We -- sinners, dead, enemies of God -- were in conflict with God and God reconciled us to Himself through Christ's death. That's a huge distance to go, especially given our sin condition and the lack of any obligation on His part to do so.

This month we celebrate the Incarnation -- God became flesh. This month we celebrate the event that provided the only possible answer to our sin problem. This month we recognize the one true answer to global climate change, dirty politics, school shootings, rampant crime, sexual abuse -- the general sinful and depraved condition in which we find our world. That answer is Christ. "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." He reconciles us to Himself through Christ.
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:18-19)
Let that be part of your Christmas celebration and the rest of your year.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

News Weakly - 12/1/18

Filed Under "How Is This News?"
So, horror of horrors, it appears that Jack Ma, richest man in China and founder of e-commerce giant, Alibaba, is ... wait for it ... a member of the Communist Party. Yeah. Take that in. Because that's bad, right? And it's news that someone who is high up in China is a -- gasp -- a communist? Arizona didn't care that they elected a communist for their new senator. Why would this be news?

Always Believe the Woman
David Edelstein was a film critic for NPR. He isn't anymore. His crime? A bad joke. He made a joke about a sex scene in The Last Tango in Paris, unaware (he claims) that it was a rape scene or the backstory of the actress who was in it. "I have never and would never make light of rape, in fiction or in reality," he said. Doesn't matter. No room for error. Gone. Now, shall we begin lopping of employment heads of other people who have made bad jokes by accident? No, I suppose not. That would be consistent and if we are anything at all these days we are inconsistent (called "double standards").

No Sense Like Common Sense
So, on one hand they demand that the legal system allow teens to require their parents to let them get gender reassignment surgery. On the other hand, parents who force minor girls to have genital mutilation is defended by the justice system. Female genital mutilation is banned worldwide and is outlawed in more than 50 countries, but ours thinks it's perfectly okay. How does that make any sense? One might disallow it on "common sense," but it appears to me that we have no such sense anymore.

Biodiversity
I've always argued that the planet seems to take care of itself. While others are running around warning that the world is coming to an end because we're messing it up, UT Austin is finding "nearly two dozen new types of microbes" that, get this, consume greenhouse gases. Go figure. Of course, I'm not counting on humans to save the planet, nor am I expecting the planet to last forever, so it's only mildly interesting, but I think we humans are arrogant if we think we've got it all figured out.

Unclear on the Concept
To be clear, I am the one who is unclear on the concept. It seems that thousands of migrants have repeatedly violated international borders, refused offers for assistance, and ignored the laws of various countries in order to get to Tijuana, Mexico, to "seek asylum" in the United States. "The truth is we are fighting for our rights" one of them said. Now they're hungry and tired and leaning hard on the thinly-stretched resources of Tijuana, so their idea is ... a hunger strike???

I'm not getting it. Why do people who are already hungry go on a hunger strike? Why do people offered help refuse it in order to get someplace that told them two countries ago they wouldn't get it here? Why is it their right to enter whatever country they wish to obtain whatever they wish? And, seriously, why is it that news media outlets can't report stories without such blatant bias? I mean, seriously ...

Illegal Immigration
Yes, all this stuff is disturbing. The president closed border crossings due to protests1. A mother tried to climb a wall at the border and skewered herself (in front of her children) on some rebar. (She is recovering.) Border agents fired tear gas at little children2. All bad stuff. But have you heard the latest? Apparently the migrant caravan has disappeared, but they left a cool wooden horse at the border. Go figure.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.
________
1 I don't know if you noticed, but that story about the closing of the border crossings was from 2009 when it was actually closed (not just a threat) and it was actually during the Obama administration and the president who closed the border was the Mexican president. Where's their outrage now?
2 Obama's administration used tear gas often for similar purposes, and the report is that some 500 migrants rushed the fence trying to climb or dig under it.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Circumcision

In the Old Testament if you wanted to be among the "saved", among the chosen, among "God's people", you had to be circumcised. In the New Testament there is a specific time when they quit demanding it (Acts 15). After that, Paul indicated that "Circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit" (Rom 2:29).

So what was that whole thing about? The Old Testament isn't clear. It was God's idea. Abraham was the first and it marked him as God's chosen. Israel didn't do it consistently; they went through periods of none at all. God threatened to kill Moses because he failed to have his son circumcised (Exo 4:24-26). All Jewish males were supposed to be circumcised 8 days after they were born (Lev 12:3). The Jewish leadership was pretty sure it was necessary for salvation in the early church period (Acts 15:1). But what was it for? Paul answers the question. He said that Abraham "received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith" (Rom 4:11). Circumcision for the Jews was God's "seal of righteousness."

Okay, so what about us? Don't we need a "seal of righteousness"? Don't we want an authentication that verifies that we are declared righteous? Seems like that would be nice.

Well, of course, circumcision for the Jews didn't actually declare their righteousness, but God conferred it for that purpose. And, as it turns out, we have a similar authentication.
In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:11-14)
Paul here draws a parallel between Jewish circumcision and Christian baptism. This baptism is a "circumcision made without hands" that represents "putting off the body of the flesh" -- dying with Christ -- and rising again. It is this connection with Christ that results in our forgiveness and salvation. In this way, baptism serves as a "seal of righteousness," the indicator that we have been identified with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6:3-5).

This, of course, produces some questions. "Does baptism produce salvation?" Certainly not, any more than circumcision did for the Jews. If it was a "seal of righteousness" for believing Jews, it was nothing at all for the unbelieving Jew. The same is true for baptism. "Since Jewish babies were circumcised, shouldn't we baptize babies, too?" No, that doesn't follow, either. Children were circumcised when they were born; believers should be baptized when they're born ... again. Jewish babies were circumcised when they became part of the family; Christians should be baptized when they become part of God's family. Even in the Jewish world, if you converted to Judaism you were circumcised after the conversion; baptism is a sign of a conversion, not a nationality. Believers should be baptized. "What value is baptism if it doesn't produce salvation and might be a seal of false righteousness?" The answer to that one is less satisfying, I suppose. God thought circumcision for the Jews was important enough to threaten to kill Moses when he failed to do it. It didn't confer salvation. It didn't guarantee faith. Lots of the circumcised are in hell. But God thought it was important as a symbol of imputed righteousness. Since baptism is our symbol of imputed righteousness, our image of our identification with death to the flesh and resurrection to new life, perhaps we also ought to consider it as important as God does.

Common baptism thinking considers it a "sign"-- not really that important. We should do it, but, really, it's just a sign. I think that's a mistake. God is kind of serious about His signs. Moses struck the rock in the desert instead of speaking to it -- intended to be a sign that the rock (Christ) had to be struck (killed) once, and after that we could just talk to Him -- and it cost Moses his entry into the Promised Land (Num 20:10-11). Our society (under the prince of the power of the air) has minimized God's version of marriage which is intended to be a symbol of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:31-32) and too many Christians are buying the lie that it's not that important. God considered circumcision to the Jews as a seal of righteousness and baptism to all as the same. I would suggest that it's likely more important than we're giving it credit for. Baptism is of considerable, biblical importance. It probably should be to us, too.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Born Again?

I recently heard a woman complaining about "those darn Christians" (of course, I cleaned that up) and their "born again" thing. "What makes them think you have to be born again to go to heaven? What about Mother Theresa? What about the good people of this world? What about me? How ridiculous!" So ... just what is this thing?

I should make it abundantly clear that "born again" is not a made-up thing. It isn't some secret rite, some cult belief, some unknown entity. The Protestants didn't make it up. The entire concept of "born again" came from the lips of none other than Jesus Christ Himself. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Don't miss that. It's huge. You can't get there unless you're "born again." You can't even see it.

Well, that's very rude of Him, isn't it? You may think so, but if you are going to be a Christian, it is not rational to deny Christ's words while claiming to be a follower of Christ. Makes no sense.

So just what is this "born again" thing? Let's look first at what Jesus says. He followed up that stunning statement to Nicodemus with, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). So "born again" is a spiritual thing, a "born of the Spirit" thing. Jesus differentiates between physical birth and spiritual birth, this "born again" (John 3:6). There is "born of water" ("born of the flesh" in v 6) and "born of the Spirit" which is not the same as "born of the flesh." The first concept, the whole idea, is Jesus's idea.

Jesus isn't the only one in the Bible to use the term. Peter does, too. He writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5). There it is again. Note of first importance the cause. "He has caused us to be born again." He -- God. This "born again" isn't our choice, our effort, or our accomplishment. It is "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (And it would be good for you to examine the results in the rest of the text -- the inheritance.) We don't earn it. We don't get it by being in the right group. We don't get it by rite, by study, by agreeing with our particular sect of Christianity, or by living right. It isn't a "Protestant" thing; it's a God thing. Peter goes on to say, "You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Peter 1:23).

It's a spiritual thing. It's a God thing. It's connected to "the living and abiding word of God."

The term, "born again", doesn't appear elsewhere in Scripture. The concept does. Paul says we are "a new creation" if we are in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). He says it's not by works but by "the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). John refers to believers as being "born of Him" (1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7 1 John 5:1-4). John says we "become children of God" (John 1:12) and calls that being "born ... of God" (John 1:13).

The problem, you see, is the human condition. Dead in sin (Eph 2:1-3), hostile to God (Rom 8:7), unable to comprehend the things of God (1 Cor 2:14), spiritually blind (2 Cor 4:4), and deceived (Jer 17:9), we're just in bad shape, too bad off to "see the kingdom of God" let alone get there. We are not in need of therapy, a good moral code, or healthy living. We're in need of a new being. That being comes into effect when we believe (John 3:16), when we agree with God about (called "confess") our sin problem (1 John 1:9) and repent (called "turn around") by first placing our only hope of positive outcome in Christ. God gives a new heart (Ezek 36:26) which is what we're calling "born again."

That is "born again." It's not the idea of that annoying guy on the corner or the Internet who keeps telling you, "Unless you're born again you can't go to heaven!" It's Jesus's idea. Anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, then, would need to concur. Anyone who does not, according to Jesus, "cannot see the kingdom of God." It's required because of our sin condition and is remedied by agreeing with God about our sin condition and trusting Christ to change us. And He does! No magic. No special incantation. No secret society. It's an act of God. A necessary one if you're planning to go to heaven. And the alternative is rather grim.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Hill to Die On

You know that phrase, right? "This isn't a hill to die on" means "Let's not fight about this." It means, "I believe a certain way about this and you don't, but I don't believe it is important enough to fight about." So, when it comes to Christian living, what constitutes "a hill to die on"? What does that look like to us? How do we determine, for instance, "This is a sin" when so many others are saying it's not? How do we decide, generally against the flow, that this is the right thing to do and that is not?

I grew up in a time when there were still Christians who declared that smoking, drinking, dancing, and even movies were sinful. Almost no one believes that anymore; at least, not all of it. (I suspect smoking and even drinking still show up on some lists.) What changed? These weren't, as it turned out, "a hill to die on." Why?

Meet Isabella Chow. She was at UC Berkeley, a student senator. She was asked to vote on a resolution that she felt endorsed and encouraged the LGBT identity and lifestyle. After prayer and counseling from other believers, she abstained from the vote. While she opposed "discrimination against or harassment of any person or people group" and declared LGBT folk "significant, valid, wanted, and loved," she was assaulted from all sides. Her own party rejected her. She was subjected to abusive language, false accusations, demands for resignation, and more. She felt this was "a hill to die on." Why?

There are things almost all Christians stand on and there are things that are up for grabs. Do we stand on Penal Substitutionary Atonement or do we negate God's Word about Christ paying for our sin with His blood? Do we stand on the Divine Breath of Scripture or do we waffle on the Bible containing God's Word but not actually being God's Word? Do we stand on the very narrow "Christ is the only way" or give in to a more inclusive version? Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Do we? Or do we suggest that there are other means by which to get to the kingdom?

I'll tell you where I stand and you can decide for yourself. I stand where it is absolutely clear from God's Word what God said. I submit that this is much more frequent than many people give the Bible credit for. When it's clear, I have no reason not to stand there. Some is less clear; I'll be less firm. I'm not as hard over on eschatology as so many others are, for instance, but I'm certain Christ will return. When every biblical reference to homosexual behavior declares it a sin, I have no problem standing there. Smoking? Not in there. Women leading the church? No, that's straightforward in there. Eating at a restaurant on Sunday? (I actually had someone ask.) Not clear enough to nail down a position. Wives subject to husbands who are subject to Christ? It's absolutely clear. Politics? Not much in there. The kind of music to play in church? Not much in there (although I will point out that Psalm 150:5 calls for "sounding cymbals" and "loud clashing cymbals"). Drinking alcohol? The Bible does not forbid it, but it does forbid drunkenness, which, as it turns out, is the primary reason people smoke marijuana. Home schooling? I'm in favor of it ... but it doesn't appear to be a biblical command; I won't be standing there. This means that I will stand on very unpopular places and, as it turns out, waffle on some other very popular positions. At least I know the basis, and it's not merely my opinion.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hungry

You know all the Beatitudes, right? No? Well, I'm sure you're familiar with this one. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt 5:6) Note the quote marks; I'm quoting Jesus. So Jesus said that those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" will be "blessed" because "they shall be satisfied." I don't think I've said anything tricky, shifty, or controversial here. But ... do you?

We have lots of plans in life. We want a better car, better job, better relationships. We want to be successful, fulfilled. We may want to contribute to society or to be useful or to make our family and friends happy. We may want to help the poor or share the gospel or ... all sorts of fine and decent goals. Is "righteousness" one of them? Because Jesus said it ought to be.

It's coming up on December. "What do you want for Christmas?" is a popular question. What about you? Do you want righteousness? I think it's a good question for Christmas because Christmas is the celebration of the only source of righteousness available to us.

Paul really wanted this. "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord," he wrote (Php 3:8). He longed to "be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Php 3:9). Paul said he had not arrived. He had not attained perfect righteousness. "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus" (Php 3:12). Paul understood "applied righteousness" -- being declared righteous on the basis of Christ's righteousness (Rom 4:1-5; 2 Cor 5:21). Paul, then, was talking about a personal righteousness, a living righteousness that reflected the imputed righteousness. He said, "Let us hold true to what we have attained" (Php 3:16). That is, "You've been declared righteous on the basis of faith in Christ; now live it."

What about you? Are you more concerned about "stuff," earthly success, "keeping up with the Joneses," personal satisfaction? Or do you hunger for righteousness, a living righteousness that reflects the righteousness applied by God from Christ? Do you long to work out your salvation so that God may be glorified? Do you wish to be blessed for thirsting for righteousness? That's what I want ... from Christmas.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Sinner or Saint?

So, let's think this through.

I'm sure you heard. American missionary, John Allen Chau, apparently hired some fishermen to take him illegally to North Sentinel Island off the coast of India. (I've found only one outlet that references his Christian mission there. Most refer to him as an "adventurer".) The island is "home to one of the last undiluted hunter-gatherer societies." They are being protected from all outsiders. The authorities arrested the fishermen that took him out there. They don't know if they can recover his body.

So, here's the question. This is for Christians only. The rest of the world will have its own ideas. I'm looking for Christian thinking. I had thoughts about "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God" (Rom 13:1) conflicting with the disciples who answered, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge" (Acts 4:19). So the question is did Mr. Chau violate Romans 13 or did he comply with Acts 4? Was John sinning by disobeying the government or was he bravely following God's directions by taking the gospel to them?

I've gone both ways on this, but I think I've come down on an answer. I suspect he was following God's biblical leading (Matt 28:19-20) and, therefore, bravely gave his life for His Lord. What do you think?

Addendum
Interesting inputs from this blog on the question.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Prayer That Got Away

Have you ever prayed a prayer so big it got away from you? You know, you're talking to God about something and the magnitude of it overwhelms you. Paul has such a prayer in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus.

He talked about his mission of taking the gospel to the Gentiles (Eph 3:1-13). "For this reason," he goes on to say, "I bow my knees before the Father ..." (Eph 3:14) and he begins to tell them about his prayer for them. He prays that they would be strengthened (Eph 3:16). They would need the Spirit's strength for Christ to dwell in them (Eph 3:17). They would need His strength to be rooted and grounded in love (Eph 3:17). They would need His strength to know the love of Christ (Eph 3:18-19).

Here Paul starts his climb -- this love of Christ he prayed they'd know. It "surpasses knowledge," he says (Eph 3:19). Thus, clearly, knowing that which surpasses knowledge definitely requires the Spirit's strength. But that's okay because He is "able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think" (Eph 3:20). Paul's language here loses something in the translation. He is using words that pile superlatives upon superlatives. We get "far more abundantly," but Paul is speaking of "super-abundance" and "hyper-beyond," and that's what the Spirit can do. What is stunning here is that He does it "according to the power at work within us" (Eph 3:20). This isn't some new thing He brings in; He's already using it. The power of the Spirit to do beyond what you could ask or even think is already at work in you.

As Paul mulls this over, there is only one direction he can head. "To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph 3:21) Where else can you go? All the power you need to know the love of Christ which exceeds knowing, and it's already at work in you. Isn't He amazingly wonderful? Those are the kind of prayers -- the examination and exultation in our glorious God -- that can really get away from you sometimes. In the best possible way.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

News Weakly - 11/24/18

The Rule of the Day
An Argentine submarine went down a year ago with 44 hands aboard. They found it this week. The government said they do not have the technology to raise the submarine. Following our current position of "If I want it you must give it," families of the lost sailors are demanding that the government raise the submarine.

In like form, recognizing that cancer is a leading cause of death, families of those lost to cancer are demanding that cancer be cured immediately. Why? Because we want it. Hey, while you're at it, how about world peace, too? Just because we want it, even if it's good, doesn't mean others are required to deliver it, especially when they can't.

Abortion in the News
Mississippi passed a law back in March that required that a child older than 15 weeks was free from being murdered. The judge threw it out. Of course, the headline indicates that an "abortion ban" was struck down, but that doesn't make sense. 1) Abortion prior to 15 weeks was still allowed. 2) We know that children in the womb are children. We know it. Read the news where a 14-year-old girl and her "unborn baby" were killed by random gunfire. Hear the heartwarming outcome of an unsolved murder of a woman and her "unborn baby" 21 years after the fact. See where "'Bachelor' couple's unborn baby already has 11k Instagram followers." How can a non-human wad of cells have followers? In Ohio the legislature is considering a law that defines "person" to include "unborn humans." Oh, that will never do. That would turn abortion into murder, and murder of unborn humans is a right in our country. You can be pretty sure that, while the government has no standardized definition of "person" or "human" or even "viability", the judiciary will certainly not defend the lives of children of which mothers and other women do not approve.

Make up your mind. Was Mississippi "banning abortion" or protecting babies? Is Ohio "redefining person" or just applying it as it should be? (On what basis did Roe v Wade not define "unborn child" as "person"? They don't know. Seriously, they did not have a reason or criterion.) Should we allow the sexual revolution define human life, or should we let God and Science (who agree)? I think we know the answers, and I think we will ignore them.

(On a side note, in that story about the Ohio law, why, do you suppose, the story goes to lengths to tell us the political party and genders of the sponsors of this bill? They are Republican and are made up of 14 men and 2 women. Why do they think that is significant? Any guesses? I think I know. And it's not due to "unbiased reporting".)

Global Warming
It seems that this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Parade was the coldest parade on record. The parade started at 19 degrees F. If this global warming keeps up, we're going to freeze to death. (Don't argue about it; just laugh with me at the joke.)

Inconsistent
Michael Avenatti is the lawyer that represented Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Trump. "Citing his deeply held conviction that we should 'believe all women,' lawyer and advocate for oppressed females Michael Avenatti immediately plead guilty to domestic violence charges after being arrested by the LAPD" for sexual abuse. Now, I know that's not what you heard in the latest news, but it must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Doubting John

We all remember the story of Doubting Thomas. Doubting John isn't as prevalent.

In Matthew we read, "Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, 'Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'" (Matt 11:2-3) Now, if you know anything about John the Baptist, you know this. He was the guy. He was the prophet. Jesus said there was no greater prophet than John (Matt 11:11). He was the one predicted (Matt 11:10), the latest "Elijah" (Matt 11:14). John, when he saw Jesus at the beginning of His ministry, pointed Him out as "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). John knew Who his cousin was (John 1:26-27). So how is it that John had to ask, "Are You the one?"

John, one of the greatest mouthpieces of God ("prophet") to have ever lived, had doubts in prison. I would suspect that if he did, so might we. What did John do about it? He did what we ought to do; he asked Jesus.

And what was Jesus's response? He told John, "O ye of little faith! Buck up, buddy! Walk by faith, not by sight. Faith in Me is opposed to reason and you just need to trust and obey." Well, of course, you can read the answer for yourself. That's not what Jesus said. He gave reasons for John to set aside his doubts.
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me. (Matt 11:4-6)
Jesus spoke of what could be seen and reasoned and what made sense. He spoke of truth -- that which corresponds to reality. He laid out the evidence and gave assurances. He gave a reason for hope (1 Peter 3:15). (Note: If you were paying attention, you would notice that Jesus's affirmations of John the Baptist that I gave up in the second paragraph occurred immediately after this exchange around John's doubts. Doubting doesn't necessarily disqualify you.)

I think we have some difficulties with all of this. "How could a prophet of God doubt? We surely shouldn't." The truth is it happens. The truth is there are answers. "Jesus always told them they had too little faith." He didn't. They had too little faith when they stood in the midst of the clear evidence and didn't trust. "Isn't faith in opposition to reason?" No, indeed. At least, Jesus didn't think so.

So, what can we learn here? Even the best can doubt. Don't worry about it; take it to Jesus. Ours is not a faith without evidence no matter what the world tells you. There are reasons and there is evidence and we should seek them. Faith is not opposed to reason; ours is a reasonable faith. Contend for it (Jude 1:3). Sometimes this "apologia" -- the defense of the faith -- is best used for believers. At least Jesus thought so. I think we should be "Christians" -- Christ-followers -- even in this.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving, 2018

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. (1 Chron 16:34)

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:18)

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Col 3:17)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Php 4:6)

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! (Psa 100:4)

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psa 106:1)
Now, hang on a minute. I seem to see a trend here. In fact, I seem to see a lot of this "give thanks" stuff in the Bible. Why?

Here's a great reason:
You were dead in your sins and trespasses ... But 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—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:1-9)
You come up with some more. It's a good day for it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

New Translations

I read, "The intent of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21). I read, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psa 51:5). I read, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). I read, "All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one"(Rom 3:12). I read, "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor 4:4). I read, "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 read, "The natural person 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). I read, "Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot" (Rom 8:5-7). All this and more leads me to conclude that human beings in their natural state are what is termed "depraved." They are sinners from birth without exception. Humans are blinded, dead in sin, incapable of accepting the things of God, and hostile to God. Others read the very same texts and conclude, "People are basically good. Everyone does some good. This 'total depravity' concept is overblown and out of touch with reality."

How do we get there from here? How do Christians read the Bible and see the plain words and grasp the simple meaning and conclude almost exactly the opposite?

This "total depravity" (using a common term) thing is a mere example. The Scriptures are abundantly clear that we're saved by grace through faith in Christ apart from works, and readers of the Bible conclude that grace and faith and all that is really nice, but we are definitely saved by works. It is undeniable that multiple passages attest to the fact that Christ paid our ransom, died for our sin, satisfied God's justice, and propitiated His wrath, but Christians argue, "Yes, He did no such thing." "What do you mean, 'Yes?' You just disagreed." "Did I?" Time and time again fundamental, crystal-clear concepts and texts are viewed and understood to mean that which contradicts what the fundamental, crystal-clear concepts and texts are saying.

How do we get there from here? How do Christians read the Bible and see the plain words and grasp the simple meaning and conclude almost exactly the opposite? I'm wondering if we're reading the same Bible. Mine is "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17). Are we reading the same Bible? Or do we have a different source of authority?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

"What Do You Want Me To Do For You?"

On two different occasions Jesus asked, "What do you want Me to do for you?" One of those times it was of the blind man, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51). Seems like a "duh" moment. He's a blind guy. He's calling to the Son of David, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:47). Like the lame man at the pool of Bethesda whom Jesus asked, "Do you wish to get well?" (John 5:6), did You really have to ask? But He did ask, so it was just sitting out there. "Rabboni," he answered, "I want to regain my sight!" (Mark 10:51). Jesus responded, "Go; your faith has made you well." (Mark 10:52). Happy ending.

Funny thing. It wasn't 16 verses earlier that Jesus was asking the very same question. Jesus had just told them He was going to be tortured and killed and James and John tell Jesus, "We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you" (Mark 10:35). Jesus asked that same question: "What do you want Me to do for you?" (Mark 10:36). Nice. "They said to Him, 'Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.'" (Mark 10:37). Jesus rightly shuts them down. "You do not know what you are asking" (Mark 10:38).

Not the same response. Bartimaeus got an "Ok" from Christ and James and John were told they were asking for the wrong thing. What was the difference? What made one a good request and the other not? I ask because maybe we can learn something about prayer. Are we asking for the wrong thing?

I think it's pretty clear. James and John came from the position, "Jesus, give us the good stuff we deserve. We've been good. We've been Your disciples. We ought to be given special rewards for our above-average work." It's the same thing you hear in the "health and wealth" kind of thinking. "I deserve better." It comes from an elevated view of self. Bartimaeus, on the other hand, came from the reverse. He brought to Jesus his biggest problem. He brought his largest downfall. He brought his disability. He didn't ask out of confidence or because he thought he had it coming. He asked for help with a problem he had no notion of solving.

What about us? Do we come in desperation or in confidence? Do we ask for what we deserve or what we don't but need? Do we demand from Christ or come in humility? Are we superior to others in our requests, or are we at the bottom of the heap? Jesus is happy to ask, "What do you want Me to do for you?" He doesn't always give what's asked. Our attitude is important. How is yours?

Monday, November 19, 2018

Heartfelt

We know that the heart is an organ that pumps blood. With a quick look you can also discover that the Bible uses the term "heart" over 1,000 times. Now you may be surprised to find that they were so aware of the inner workings of the human body, and you'd be right because that was not the intent of the authors of Scripture. In our day we understand "heart" to be in contrast with "mind." You know, "Follow your heart, not your head." The heart, in this context, is primarily your inner emotions and desires. That is not what the Bible means when it uses the term. So perhaps, since we're supposed to love God with all our hearts (for instance), we ought to discover just what God's Word means when it talks to us about the heart.

In Scripture the heart is not a reference to the pump that keeps your blood moving; it is a reference to your innermost being. It isn't a reference to your feelings, except as so far as your feelings are part of your innermost being. "Man looks on the outside appearance, but God looks on the heart" (1 Sam 16:7). The heart is the deepest "you," whether it is talking about your heart or God's heart. You are what you are in your heart (Prov 23:7). We know that the heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9). "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders" (Matt 15:19). The heart contains the intellectual functions, the emotional operations, the volitional components (2 Cor 9:7), the moral code. Since the human heart is sinful, we need a new heart (Jer 31:33). When we are made new, that is exactly where Christ dwells (Eph 3:17) -- not the organ that pumps blood; the core of "you."

"Follow your heart" is popular, but given the problem of sin that resides in the heart, perhaps that isn't the best option. If the heart is the innermost being, infected with deceit and sin, we would obviously need a heart transplant. A heart indwelt by Christ would be much better, but that one is much, much more than "how I feel." It is the soul -- mind, will, and emotions -- under the influence of Christ. Create in me a clean heart, O God.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

What's In It For Me?

We can hardly operate without this fundamental question: "What's in it for me?" Sometimes it's blatant; sometimes it's subtle. Even when we're being "selfless" we're most often operating under an underlying, "I'll feel better when I do this for them than if I hadn't." The problem, of course, is that we're such poor judges of what's in it for us. We think "A" would be so marvelous and find out we would have been better off with "B". Joseph certainly didn't start out thinking that being tossed into a well and then sold into slavery was a good thing for him, but at the other end of that nightmare road he declared, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20).

One of the most common objections to God -- from skeptics and believers alike -- is the problem of evil. Why do bad things happen to good people? If we're not succumbing to it, we try to solve it with little tricks like, "It'll work out in the end" or "I must have done something wrong." Our approach is generally "I'll tell myself it's not that bad." And we hold out for ourselves the promise that things will get better. "Every cloud has its silver lining." "What's in it for me?" at its core.

The prophet Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. He had it really bad. He was commissioned by God to tell Judah they needed to repent or be punished. You can imagine he wasn't well received. He was threatened by his own, locked up, and tormented. They didn't repent and Jerusalem was destroyed. How did Jeremiah deal with it? "I must have done something wrong." No. "It'll get better." No. "Things aren't that bad." No.

Jeremiah saw himself as oppressed by God (Lam 3:1) without hope (Lam 3:7-9). "My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is" (Lam 3:17). So where did he go to ease this genuine burden?
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him." (Lam 3:22-24)
Relief wasn't sufficient for Jeremiah. "Things will get better" didn't help. Jeremiah's confidence and, therefore, hope was not in what he would get out of it. He simply wanted the Lord. That was sufficient.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Great is His faithfulness. Is that sufficient?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

News Weakly - 11/17/18

The New Reality (Hint: It ain't actually connected to reality.)
The chief marketing officer for Victoria's Secret had to apologize for remarks he made in a Vogue interview. He said that he didn't want to include transgender models in their show because "the show is a fantasy." He said they considered it, but "No one had any interest in it, still don't." He has backpedaled and said he would of course include any qualifying transgender model and he's sorry for the offense.

The takeaway. 1) Do not have an opinion of the dysphoria du jour that does not embrace it fully. 2) Society at large is not interested in viewing biological men as women. Society at large still sees "male" and "female" as body parts ... you know, like biology requires. 3) Free enterprise means "As free as we let you be and no more." What does the market bear? Doesn't matter. What do your customers want? Doesn't matter. What is your product about? Doesn't matter. We control the vertical; we control the horizontal. (Sorry, line from an old TV series. You get the idea. They get to control reality.)

The New Centrist
Kyrsten Sinema was declared the winner of Arizona's hotly contested Senate seat. She beat out a former Air Force pilot with her "solidly centrist positions, according to The Associated Press."

What constitutes "solidly centrist positions"? She favors killing babies in the womb "if mom wants to." She favors increased taxes, which is good because she favors increased federal spending to improve economic growth, but not decreasing corporate taxes if that improves economic growth. She favors gun control, standard "global warming" positions, open borders, and marijuana for recreational purposes. She opposes stay-at-home moms. She has been tied to the Communist Party USA. I am disappointed in Arizona for voting her in, but more of a concern is that these are considered "solidly centrist positions." Good thing I'm not counting on her support.

Anti-Science
A report is out that archaeologists "can determine a person's sex by analyzing a single tooth." Well, maybe, but not their gender, right? Because the tooth can't tell us if it feels like a certain sex; just that it is ... one of only two. "On the wrong side of history," bigoted, binary tooth.

The New Satanic Verses
A pastor of an Assemblies of God megachurch decided to tell his 10,000+ congregation members about a dangerous, nay, demonic activity -- yoga. That's right. If you practice yoga, connected to any religion or not connected to religion at all, you are opening yourself up, merely by taking those exercise positions, to demonic power. How does he know this? Apparently the Bible tells him so. "As a church," he said, "our heart is to provide people with Biblical insight and teaching that will strengthen their faith and their daily walk with God." If you stop the practice, you have nothing to worry about, he says. If not, you do.

I'd just like to point out that my Bible says nothing about yoga and nothing about exercise positions that open you up to demonic powers. My Bible says things like, "If one of the unbelievers invites you to [yoga] and you are disposed to go, [exercise] without raising any question on the ground of conscience" because "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (1 Cor 10:27). My Bible says, "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). My Bible says, "We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him" (1 John 5:18). So I'm not sure at all what "biblical insight and teaching" he's talking about; it's not in my Bible.

Juxtaposition
The media is outraged. "You can't do that!" CNN is suing President Trump for removing the credentials of their guy after he appeared to battle with in the briefing room. You will note that they didn't ban CNN; they merely removed Jim Acosta's White House press credentials. That is, the press (CNN in this case) still has its freedom to be there; just not that guy.

I suppose I'm a little baffled by this. "This is a threat to our democracy," they say. "He's entitled to his 5th Amendment rights," they say. "It's retaliation for Acosta's challenges," they say. I don't understand at what point the president lost the ability to choose to whom he gives his information as long as it is to someone. I don't understand how "He took away my press credentials" falls under any sort of crime covered under the 5th Amendment. I don't understand why Disney can do it but the White House can't. The juxtaposition of the two stories is telling. I am not defending Trump; I'm trying to follow the logic. But, hey, that's just me. I see things in "legal" or "logical" terms and think "X." I see "The president removed Acosta's pass and he can because it's his house" while the judicial system determines "He can't because it causes 'irreparable harm.'" Looks bad for CNN, FOX (who backed the notion that the press should be allowed to be wherever they want whenever they want at their whim under the protection of free speech, free press, and the 5th amendment) and American freedom.

Is This Even Legal?
Socialists and Democrats have decided to try to force companies like Amazon and WalMart (by name) to pay their employees $15 because that's a "living wage" and those with the money should give it up. So Bernie et.al. has floated a bill (he calls the "Stop Walmart bill") to prevent them from buying back their own stock until they raise their employees pay to his minimum requirement. Why would a company buy back its own stock? That's how they give back dividends to their shareholders. So the plan is to increase the cost of living for everyone by forcing companies to pay their workers a "living wage" (by which they mean "today ... but not tomorrow") at the cost of the company and its shareholders and, ultimately all of America. That sounds fair. That sounds Socialist.