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Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Miracle of Christmas

We know the phrase, "the miracle of Christmas." Do we know what it is? Well, sure we do. It's about how everyone loves everyone at this particular time of year.

Well, of course, that's simply not true. There is no small number of people that get grumpier at this time of year. Or sadder. It's not miraculous for some people.

So, what is the miracle of Christmas? Santa Clause? Well, of course, if he was real, that might be a miracle, but that "if" is a problem, isn't it? Nope. Not Santa.

What, then?

You might think of the miracle of the Virgin Birth. That miracle has been "Christian" from the beginning. That was miraculous. There is the whole "angels and the shepherds" story. That was miraculous. The magi that traveled to visit, complete with a warning from God to go another way home was miraculous. There is a lot to Christmas that was miraculous. But which of them constituted "the miracle of Christmas"?

Well, of course, one answer is "All of them." Together they form a large miracle. But the real miracle is Christ Himself. The real miracle is that "He was in the form of God," but didn't consider that something to be held onto. Instead, He "emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Php 2:6-7). God Incarnate. That was the miracle of Christmas. That He came at all. That was the miracle. That "He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Php 2:8). That was the real miracle.

We wonder sometimes, "If God is so good and so loving and so powerful, why aren't more saved? Why aren't all saved?" In the face of "God taking on the form of man," the question isn't "Why not more?" The question is "Why is there any? Why is there one?" That He came at all and came to save some of those who have rebelled against Him -- that is the miracle of Christmas. Joy to the world!

Saturday, December 07, 2019

News Weakly - 12/7/19

Youth With A Mission
I've been concerned for some time with our culture's headlong plunge into "Don't trust people with education and experience; trust the children." Now Rachel Junck has crystallized that concern for me. She is a 20-year-old college student who was elected to the Ames City Council. I'm sure Ames will benefit from her experience and education or, rather, her lack thereof, as she works hard on her #1 priorty -- fighting climate change in Ames, Iowa.

And Now for Something Completely Different
I don't know if you remember transgender activist Jessica Yaniv. He (claiming to be a she) made the news some time ago when he sued some salon workers who refused to wax "her man parts" (I put that there so you can see how lunatic it is) because ... they were man parts. He lost that case, but he's back. Now he's complaining about illegal discrimination because a gynecologist refused to give him an appointment. Remember, he has "man parts" -- he's not post-operative. What, exactly, did he expect a gynecologist to do? And whatever that is, why must all gynecologists do it? Yaniv is "shocked" and "confused" and "hurt." Well, the "confused" part is obviously correct. Even Ricky Gervais considers Yaniv a "sex-pest troll."

The Hero Actor
Actor Mark Ruffalo, who played Hulk for the Avengers movie series, attacked capitalism this week. "It’s time for an economic revolution. Capitalism today is failing us, killing us, and robbing from our children’s future," said the actor who reportedly made $13 million from the movies. To back his position, he voiced support for Bernie Sanders and offered to surrender his millions so that the less fortunate and the children could benefit. Only half of that last sentence was true.

Fruits and Vegetables
Okay, maybe that's not a kind title here, but "impeachment" makes me think of peaches (fruit) and a lot of what's going on appears to be mindless (vegetables), so ...

Nancy Pelosi claimed, "This isn’t about politics at all. This is about patriotism. It’s not about partisanship." Al Green said, "I'm concerned if we don't impeach this president he will get re-elected." Jerry Nadler said, "An impeachment of a president is an doing of a national election." I can't repeat what Adam Schiff said about Trump. Not about politics, right? Luckily the media remains unbiased. Newsweek assured us that Trump is "America's anti-president." Business Insider ridiculed Republicans for using "massive signs to defend Trump" by, get this, using Democrats' own words. The fools.

No one really believes this is not political, do they? No one really believes that the Democrat-controlled House is conducting a "fair and impartial" hearing, do they? No one actually thinks that the House will hear evidence against and for Trump, do they? I don't think so. But "thinking" isn't really part of this, is it?

Many a Truth is Said in Jest
Sure, it's the Babylon Bee, but the headline was just too close to the truth: "Kamala Harris Fulfills Campaign Promise To Improve America By Dropping Out Of Race." Right?

Friday, December 06, 2019

Myths

In an article from Crossway.org Michael Haykin addresses "5 Myths about John Calvin." You learn there that the story that Calvin had Servetus burned at the stake is false. He testified in Servetus's trial but Calvin wasn't a citizen at the time, had no political power, and pleaded for the authorities not to burn him. The authorities burned Servetus to demonstrate their independence from Calvin.

A lot of people think that Calvin's theology is summed up in what today is called "Calvinism" -- those "5 Points of Calvinism," or TULIP. In truth, Calvin never included those 5 points in his writing. It could likely be shown that he supported the ideas, but he never articulated them. The "5 Points of Calvinism" didn't become "Calvinism" until long after his death at the Synod of Dordt.

You learn that Calvin was not an antinomian. He did not believe that works had no connection to our faith. He did not believe that we are saved by works, but he also was convinced that no true believer does no good works. Calvin believed that the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit produced a definite result in the human being that was steadily moving him/her toward Christ-likeness.

You learn that, despite all this "Sovereignty of God" and "Election" stuff, Calvin was a firm believer in missions. Calvin understood the Reformation in general and his calling in particular was to plant true Christian churches. He argued that Scripture taught "that it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation."

I am not of Calvin; I am of Christ. I am not suggesting that Calvin was infallible or even that you should listen to him. (To be fair, I've never read a complete work of his.) I'm suggesting that 1) we are often fed lies about people that God has used, 2) we often dismiss the good stuff from people because of something else we don't like (referred to as "throwing the baby out with the bathwater"), and 3) we can be really vicious and vindictive against fellow believers without just cause. We ought to concern ourselves with Scripture and rejoice when someone else concurs with it rather than doing battle with people we don't like because they don't concur with our personal perceptions. Especially when we realize that both our personal perceptions of those with whom we do battle and of the truth may be faulty.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

In Season and Out of Season

My wife recently rented a movie. She figured Won't You Be My Neighbor? would be clean and interesting. How bad could a documentary on Fred Rogers be? She was right. It was a clean show, an upfront documentary made with historical and current interviews from Rogers and those who knew him and worked with him.

He was an interesting fellow. One thing they stressed was that Fred Rogers -- the man -- was the same person as Mr. Rogers -- the television presence. It wasn't an act; he really was a nice guy. One thing I learned was a real surprise to me. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. Yeah, go figure. Rogers had a passion for the welfare of children. He chose to do television work for children's programming instead of going to seminary as he had planned. The work was hard, so he took a break and went back to seminary. He was ordained as a minister of the United Presbyterian Church (UPC) in 1963. (Today it's now the PCUSA.) Mister Rogers' Neighborhood came about in 1968.

Rogers was known as a man of faith. He wouldn't "eat anything that had a mother," a vegetarian for both health and ethical reasons. He offered messages that he believed were inspired by the core tenets of Christianity, but wouldn't speak about his faith on air. He believed an example was a more powerful teacher than teaching or preaching verbally. His primary message throughout his career was two-fold: "Love your neighbor and love yourself."

Fred Rogers was a nice guy, but I was saddened to hear his primary message. Oh, sure, that "love your neighbor" thing is obviously good; Jesus agreed. But Rogers left it as a rule, a principle, a command, so to speak, but offered no support. He included the second greatest command and left off the first -- love God (Matt 22:37-40). He substituted, instead, Satan's best message -- love yourself. Such a wonderful principle -- love -- but devoid of the source (1 John 4:8).

Fred Rogers was a nice guy who treated people well and seemed to genuinely care about kids. He actually lived the way he suggested others live. He epitomized the saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary use words." He never used words. I was sad to see that an ordained Presbyterian minister with access to children felt it was important not to tell them about Jesus. Paul charged Timothy to "preach the word," specifying "in season and out of season," and urging him to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4:1-2). I'm disappointed that an ordained minister, seminary trained, didn't know that and felt that "love yourself" was a better message that Christ. I'm disappointed that, to the nice Mr. Rogers, Jesus was not the answer.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Inversion Layer

Every so often we find things in the Bible that are clearly backwards. Take, for instance, the story in Acts. Paul preached a sermon in Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:13-41) and the text says, "As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). Okay, hold on a minute; that can't be right. Back up, Luke; you got that wrong. It's supposed to read, "As many as believed were appointed to eternal life." That is, "believe" is the cause of "appointed to eternal life" and not the other way around. But there it is.

John wrote, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him" (1 John 5:1). Odd verb tense there, isn't it? Doesn't "believes" cause "born of God"? This verse seems to say that "born of God" precedes ("has been") "believes." In fact, Jesus said something similar. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Get the sequence? "Not born of God" = "cannot see the kingdom of God." Strange. Does that mean that, in order to see the kingdom to respond in faith, we have to first be born again?

Jesus did a similar thing elsewhere. He told the Jews, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not among My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:25-27). See it? We generally think the exact opposite. Those who do not believe are not His sheep because to be His sheep you have to first believe. But Jesus said that the reason they didn't believe was because they weren't among His sheep. That is, "Not among My sheep" explained why they didn't believe. Turned around.

It happens. It turns out that God thinks differently than we do. It turns out that we might turn ideas around to match our preconceptions rather than letting God's ideas shape our beliefs. We are pottery that has no problem telling the Potter, "What are you doing?!" (Isa 45:9). Perhaps we ought to rethink this strategy.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Cloudy Days

I was reading the story in Numbers about how the cloud by day and fire by night resided on the tabernacle. God used it so lead His people around. Move, and they moved. Stand, and they stopped (Num 9:15-23). Easy. I've often wished I had a "cloud" like that. You know, some sort of substantive presence of God to tell me "Go here now" or "Stop there now." Sure, it led them around in the desert for 40 years, but at least they could always be sure they weren't lost.

Moses got wordy writing the text. I mean, verses 17-23 describe the same thing in nuanced ways. We get it. Move, we move. Stop, we stop. One verse says, "Even when the cloud lingered over the tabernacle for many days, the sons of Israel would keep the LORD'S charge and not set out" (Num 9:19). That's actually the reverse of most of the rest. They all indicated that when the cloud moved after an extremely short time or an extended time, they moved, too. But this one was the opposite. When God did not tell them to move, they did not move.

We do that, you know. We have no problem running ahead of God. Eve did it in the garden. God never told them that they couldn't touch the tree, but Eve assured the serpent that He did (Gen 3:3). We do it all the time. We conclude that our political party is the party of God without any indication from God that it is so. We know that God forgives, but given the offense of that one, we surely won't. We take a hard stand on things that God's Word never does and think we're standing for God. I've heard Christians outraged when someone questions December 25th as the day of Christ's birth or that someone suggested that "Good Friday" was not the day that Jesus died, but perhaps a Thursday or even a Wednesday. Those aren't in there. Look for yourself. All of this is just like moving when the cloud stands still. Like Abram and Sarai with Hagar (Gen 16:1-2). "We'll help God out with His promise." Israel is still paying for that one.

"But," I hear someone protest, "we don't have that cloud." No, we don't. But we do have God's Word. We do have the Spirit. We do have fellow believers. We do have prayer. We don't have a cloud anymore; we have so much more. So, is it ingratitude or ignorance or mere willful disobedience that keeps us running ahead of God thinking we're doing His will? Numbers 9 concludes, "At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD'S charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses" (Num 9:23). I'd think we'd want to do something similar.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Vigilant

We complain about it on one hand, but, on the other, we sure like our lines. We like to know the proper steps to ending alcoholism and the protocol for gaining godliness. We want things to be cut and dried. This teacher -- good; that one -- bad. "That group is evil, so even if the songs they are producing are correct and worshipful, we will avoid them because it's clear that group is evil." So we look for rules and regulations and definitions that are clear and concise. "Is it a sin to get a divorce?" "Well, that all depends." And we get restless. "'That all depends'? Just tell us yes or no."

Peter wrote, "Be sober, be vigilant" (1 Peter 5:8). He gives a reason. "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Peter is not alone. Paul wrote, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Cor 13:5) John wrote, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1). You remember the Bereans. They were so noble-minded that they actually checked up on the Apostle Paul "to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Jesus said we were to "keep on the alert at all times" (Luke 21:36). A running theme, then.
So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thess 5:6)
We would like rules and plans and patterns and protocols. We aren't really keen on "Be vigilant." We aren't happy with "Keep alert at all times." We'd prefer a checklist and be done. Looks like that's not the way it works. Instead, be vigilant. Test yourself. Test the spirits. Examine the Scriptures. Pray. It may not be as simplistic as we'd hoped, but it won't be boring.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

An Intrachurch Question

Just wondering out loud, so to speak. Most churches consider "elder," "overseer," and "pastor" to be synonymous. It is possible in some to be an elder/overseer without being a pastor, but in almost all cases pastors are elder/overseers. The original reason for this, of course, is that Peter links the two (1 Peter 5:1-4) where "shepherd" is the same word for "pastor." I'm fine with that. I have problems with churches with a single pastor (one pastor, not an unmarried pastor) and no other elders/overseers and consider themselves biblically sound in that department, but I'm fine with a pastor being one of the elders.

Settling that, then, I have this nagging question. Paul said that, among other things, an elder should be "keeping his children under control with all dignity" (1 Tim 3:4). He's supposed to manage his household well. Because "If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?" (1 Tim 3:5). He told Titus that an elder must have children "not accused of dissipation or rebellion" (Titus 1:6). Seems pretty straightforward. So I have a question.

Why is it that we have a stereotype of the "PK" -- the "pastor's kid" -- who is typically the worst behaved kid in church? We give it a nod. "You know how it is. He is so busy taking care of the matters of his church that he can hardly make time to manage his kid(s)." All well and good ... except it's not biblical. Paul asked, "How will he take care of the church of God?" and we appear to answer, "Well, he will, Paul. Don't get your knickers in a twist." So we stand by as the pastor's tyke goes screaming down the hallways at the top of her lungs and exchange knowing, tolerant looks. "What are you going to do?"

My question is "Is this biblical?" My question is if a pastor is not managing his household well -- not controlling his children -- should he be pastor? I mean, sure, it may be necessary to start with a Galatians 6:1 approach, but should this be an issue? Or should we view the qualifications of elder as "helpful suggestions" rather than qualifications? Or is there another answer? I've asked a couple of people and they tell me, "Well, your idea of 'children under control' is not the same as the pastor's, so you should just forget about it." That sounds like relativity, where "children under control" simply means whatever you want it to mean. I don't know. I'm just wondering.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

News Weakly - 11/30/19

Don't Bother Me With Facts
Last week Attorney Manfred Nowak's U.N. report titled "Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty" hit the airwaves and the world, us included, went crazy. According to Nowak, the U.S. currently has more than 100,000 children in migration-related detention. That's evil. Trump is evil. Except, of course, it's not true. That was the number held under Obama throughout 2015. Oops! Well, it doesn't matter. Trump wanted to, we're pretty sure. At least some of the outlets that ran the story retracted it, but you can be pretty sure that folks will be quoting the horrors of Obama's Trump's administration for some time to come, because once it's out there, it's out there, and too many cannot be bothered with facts.

Christmas Decoration Control
An 88-year-old veteran responded to a neighbor's plea for help. Her younger sister was being attacked by a dog. He rushed out the door and snatched up the first weapon he could find -- a plastic nutcracker, part of his neighbor's Christmas display. He mercilessly beat the pitbull until it released the 10-year-old girl. Neighbors are calling for his arrest for animal cruelty and the township is looking into extending Christmas decoration control to cut down on anti-dog violence. Okay, no. The man bravely defended the girl against a vicious animal and, somehow, today's twisted mentality (like "Save the dogs but kill the unborn babies") didn't mess that up.

More Fake News
There was a story out that mothers were binge drinking more than before. Turns out it's fake news. Turns out that between 2006 and 2018 mothers are binging on alcohol the same amount as women without children. Oh, sure, that number has been on the rise, but that it's just mothers is fake news. What disturbed me most about the story was that the medical world defines binge drinking as four or more drinks at once for women and five or more for men. That seems like a sexist standard suggesting that genders are not equal and there is actually a biological difference between men and women. I thought we'd banished that idea.

When Equal Treatment is Hate
An organization known as "Created Equal" did all the required steps and paperwork to get permission to put up a display at Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and Kennesaw State universities as well as the University of Georgia. Their aim? Their message is that "to treat the preborn in a way we’d never treat a born person is a grievous violation of human equality. College students deserve to see the victims of this injustice and to know the science and reasoning behind defending the preborn." They plan to show images of fetuses to show that they're preborn children. Georgia State warned students that it was coming and labeled such speech as "hateful or mean-spirited." The group calls the murder of preborn children "ageism" and opposes unequal treatment. Pro-choicers apparently consider "ageism" hate and equal treatment "mean-spirited." Otherwise they wouldn't care if someone showed pictures of a non-human, right?

Speaking of Abortion
So here's the story. According to "all statistics measuring abortion in the U.S.", abortions reached an "historic low" in 2016. Yippee! That's good. Like saying, "Fewer children were murdered in 2016 than in the previous years of murdering children took place." Being one who values human life, it's good that the number is down. Being one who values truth, it's misleading to fall into the trap. You understand that abortions were not tracked prior to 1969, that immorality in 1969 was on the rise (meaning that abortions before that were likely less), and that no one really knows how many abortions took place in prior years. (The CDC started tracking them in 1969, but since it was illegal, they had no reliable means of actually knowing how many there were.) (It should also be noted that Wikipedia reports that, according to the CDC, there were 193,491 abortions reported to the CDC with an induced abortion rate of 52 per live birth. Significantly less than 2016. Making the story itself a lie.) You understand that it is considered "good news" that "only" 623,471 babies were murdered by abortion in 2016, down from 638,169 in 2015. I'm glad the number is down. I'm sad that "only over a half million killed" is considered good news. That's more than the total number of Americans killed in World War II. That's more than the total number of Americans killed in the Civil War where every death was an American. Don't let them tell you it's "safe, legal, and rare," because it's legal, but it's still not safe and it's certainly not rare.

Going About It The Wrong Way
Wayne Grudem is a biblical scholar, conservative, complementarian, generally good things. Recently, it seems, he has been listening to sad stories of marital abuse and has decided to change his view on divorce. Originally he recognized only adultery or desertion. Now he has added ... well ... just about anything. (He lists verbal and physical abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, gambling addiction, and pornography addiction for examples.) Ostensibly, on the basis of the phrase "In such cases" found in 1 Cor 7:15, he has concluded that anything that destroys a marriage is included, and "destroys a marriage" is not defined. I say "ostensibly" because clearly he came to this conclusion not on the basis of Scripture, but on the basis of horrible stories of spouses staying in abusive marriages because they were told they had to just sit and take it. This is the same basis that others have used to change their view that homosexual behavior is sin. Because of Scripture? No. Someone in their family or someone close to them has come out as "gay" and circumstances -- their feelings about these people -- have dictated their position, not Scripture. We don't get to offer a "new and promising kind of argument" for God's Word. Not even Mr. Grudem. Sorry, Wayne.

Friday, November 29, 2019

A Personal Problem

I know, I know, I'm about to tell you about something that bothers me for me and it will upset some readers. "Pharisee!" they'll cry. "Judgmental!" they'll accuse. "Don't tell me what to do!" they'll demand. So let me make it clear that I'm not about to tell you what to do. I'm about to tell you about a personal problem in the hopes that you might be able to help me. I'm not suggesting that this is a problem for anyone but me. So thank you for your kind indulgence.

I am a fairly standard American. I have a television set and I use it for entertainment. Okay, maybe not standard. I don't have an antenna or cable connection, so I don't actually watch broadcast TV, but I do still have Netflix and my wife does connect to the Internet and watch a show or two from network television. So almost standard, okay? Here's the problem -- my problem. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to defend any of this ... at all.

In Deuteronomy God commanded Israel to teach their children the words of the Shema. "You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up" (Deut 6:4-9). So when their children asked to be allowed to learn the ways of other nations, they would tell their children, "Well, you're supposed to be learning to love God when you lie down, when you rise up, and when you're home and when you're out. If you can figure out when else you have to do it, you can try." Or something like that. David wrote, "I will set no worthless thing before my eyes" (Psa 101:3). That's interesting because he did not say "evil"; he said "worthless." Paul wrote, "Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them" which seems all well and good, but went on to say, "for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret" (Eph 5:11-12). Elsewhere Paul says, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things" (Php 4:8) All pretty clear and straightforward.

Consider, then, our current popular entertainment. What is their message? What is their aim? What do they want you to believe? The unrepentant aim of much of what you're shown today is "Accept as moral the immorality of our current world." In 2018 the news reported that "The percentage of LGBTQ series regulars on broadcast primetime scripted programming is up to an all-time high of 8.8 percent." This year GLAAD reported it was at 10.2% and the current demand is 20% by 2025. Companies playing ads for you on that same TV are consciously making them more "gay-inclusive" with, for instance, a kid who addresses two women as "Moms" (Cox), a holiday gathering with a gay couple (Kohl's), or a Campbell's soup ad with gay dads to name a few. GLAAD doesn't make any bones about it; they are aiming at making same-sex sex normal, acceptable, even laudable in today's society, and they are doing it right there on your TV screen. But look at some of the other affects. I've watched some of the older shows, like Dragnet or Adam-12, in light of newer shows like "Criminal Minds" or "Gotham." The magnitude of the crimes depicted have increased exponentially and the graphic depiction is out of control. In fact, finding horrible messages is so easy that we miss some of the easy ones because the rest are so blatant. But, here's the challenge. Can you find any positive ones? Can you find messages in primetime TV that give you ""Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute"? It sure doesn't seem like it.

I'm wondering, then, why I'm still watching any secular entertainment. Do you see my problem? If I want to learn to love God day and night, if I want to avoid the worthless, let alone the evil, if I want to avoid examining what is done by them in secret, if I want to think the way that Scripture tells me to think, can I do that with my television set? How do I justify it? If I want to imitate God (Eph 5:1), does the entertainment I'm putting in front of me add to or detract from that? If the things that I find entertaining are the things that God finds abominable, what does that say about me? Do I need to make a radical change here? That's my problem.

Additional Considerations
In thinking about this further, I have to point out that "crime" or "violence" or the like in our entertainment media are not the issue here. The Bible includes stories of crime, violence (sometimes very graphic violence), sexual immorality, and all. (Interestingly there is not one instance of graphic sex there. Nowhere does it describe a sex act. Kind of like the old days of TV and movies where the scene cuts and you know what they did but you never saw it.) Of course, a key difference is that none of it is glorified. Contrasted with a Gotham where all characters are evil or Joker where everyone is bad, so we should feel bad for the poor mass murderer, the Bible contains these stories, but they aren't classified as "good". So it is not merely the presence of such stories that I'm talking about; it is the intent.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Turkey Day

Most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Okay, they recognize it. They indulge it. It isn't only believers buying turkeys and gathering to give thanks. Even unbelievers -- actual atheists, even -- will recognize the day as a "day of thanks" and even admit to being thankful for something, even if it's just the meal. Or the football. Here's the thing. Amidst all the revelry and gluttony and even a momentary "I'm thankful for ...", how often do we/they think about to whom we're thankful.

You see, an atheist will say, "I'm thankful for ..." but won't say, "I'm thankful to God for ..." because, after all, the atheist believes in no such being. So we get that he or she is grateful in some sense for some gift, but gives no reference to the giver. And, unfortunately, many of us have that tendency even as believers. We vaguely are grateful, but are not actually clearly grateful to God. We're just "grateful" in the sense that we're "happy to have" whatever that is and not in the sense that it is a gift.

Gratitude, actually, doesn't come easily to us humans. Gratitude is being thankful for a benefit received. If we are due that benefit -- if it is justly ours to begin with -- then we have no room to be grateful. And we have an overbearing sense of entitlement as sinful human beings. You'd think gratitude would come easy, but look how hard we work on our kids from a very young age teaching them to be grateful. "Tell Gramma thank you." Because they wouldn't naturally do it. It is not innate. And our gratitude is worse when it comes to God.

In Romans Paul starts his exposition of the Gospel -- the good news -- with the bad news (Rom 1:18-3:20). He starts by declaring that God's wrath is revealed "against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Rom 1:18). He specifies that God's attributes are revealed through creation (Rom 1:20), but that hasn't worked for sinful man.
For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom 1:21)
The first error is a failure to honor or give thanks to God. That's the beginning of the huge spiral into all manner of evil. Our first error is a lack of gratitude. So it might seem contradictory that we have a nationwide celebration of giving thanks. If we're honest, however, we're not giving thanks to God. We're barely even giving Him a nod. We're just ... "thankful" without reference to the One to whom we're supposed to be thankful.

Many refer to the day as "Turkey Day" because of the traditional turkey dinner. I think it is probably a more accurate depiction of the day to most of us. We're happy to have things; we're just not grateful to the Giver. Pass the turkey. So when Paul says, "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess 5:18), we're somewhat baffled. "Really? In all circumstances? Is that even reasonable?" It's not if you aren't even willing to thank Him on a day set aside to do so for the good things you're enjoying. It is thoroughly reasonable if you know God. If you know God, there is a lot to be grateful for, pleasant or unpleasant, plenty or poor, happy or sad, positive or negative. If you're having trouble thanking God in the pleasant experiences of Thanksgiving Day, you'll have trouble thanking Him in every circumstance. And that's your loss. Because God is good all the time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The "Lone Ranger" Problem

Today there is a rise in a category of religious belief that they're calling "the Nones." These people do not identify as atheist; they simply don't identify with a religion. They aren't anti-religion; they just don't want yours. America itself has long been identified with two brave characteristics: equality and individuality. We kind of like to think of ourselves as a nation of mavericks.

As a result, we have a host of misguided belief systems that we too generously refer to as "Christian" and are not. Where do they come from? Typically they come from the "Lone Ranger" Christian, the "None" in some sense. "I don't need a church to tell me what to believe; I can figure it out on my own." A sense of "You and me, Jesus; just You and me" runs through it. We are given information and means to get this right (Eph 4:11-13), and we run off on our own. "Don't worry; I've got this." We ignore the host that have gone before and determine to blaze our own trails. "Maybe that's what the text says, but I'm pretty sure that I've figured it out that it doesn't mean anything of the kind." "Lone Ranger" theology.

Look, here's what we know. 1) God is God. He is omniscient, which means He knows what was, what is, and what will be. He didn't "get it wrong" in the past and He didn't fail to anticipate what was coming in the future. 2) Jesus is the Incarnate Word (John 1:1). He recognized God's word as truth (John 17:17). Our Scriptures are "God-breathed" (2 Tim 3:16). Therefore, all of Scripture could be "red lettered," no Scripture can contradict Scripture, and all Scripture is useful (2 Tim 3:16-17). 3) God has instituted means by which we can rightly understand His word. We have the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21) promised by Jesus (John 16:13-14). We have the church (Eph 4:11-13). God's word can be understood ... correctly.

If you have a new idea about how Scripture ought to be interpreted, welcome to "Lone Ranger" theology. If you've finally figured out the truth and no one else did before you, welcome to "maverick" Christianity. Understand that what you're practicing voids Scripture itself. Jesus didn't know what He was talking about when He promised the Holy Spirit. God didn't know what He was doing when He inspired the Word. The Godhead failed ... failed to provide an ongoing string of believers who actually had the truth from the Spirit through the church. This is the danger of the Lone Ranger approach. Sure, it's American. It's avant-garde -- cutting edge. Maybe you understand what no one before understood, like the suggestion that hell isn't real or that things always taken as real were actually mythical or that the sins of the fathers weren't actually sins and everything's okay. Sure, it's pushing the envelope. The only problem is it denies the God it tries to approach, and that can't be a good thing. Ultimately the "Lone Ranger" approach denies Scripture itself and, therefore, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all in one fell swoop. Not a good idea for one trying to follow Christ.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Will of God

"What is God's will for my life?" Anyone who has a living relationship with God will at some point or another be concerned about that question. Generally speaking, the question is about things like "Should I marry this person?" or "Should I take this job?" or "What should I study in college?" Things like that. So we will tell people, "If you want to know the will of God, it's easy; read your Bible." But these kinds of things are not likely in there, right? You will not find "Yes, marry Julia" kind of answers in the pages of Scripture. So how helpful is that answer, "Read your Bible"?

In some cases it is the best possible answer. The answer to "What must I do to be saved?" is found explicitly in the pages of God's Word (Acts 16:31), for instance. "Should I sleep with my boyfriend before marriage?" is clearly answered (repeatedly). Jesus left no question regarding whether or not I should cheat on my taxes (Matt 22:21). "Should I help the poor?" is an easily answered question (Matt 22:39; Luke 10:30-37; Prov 3:27-28; Prov 28:27; Deut 15:10-11; 1 John 3:17; Luke 14:14; and on and on), but "Should helping the poor be the singular concern of every Christian?" is also in there (Matt 26:11; 2 Thess 3:10). Scripture gives lots of explicit answers to real questions.

Beyond the explicit, however, there is more in Scripture to answer, "What is God's will for my life?" Scripture may not tell you, "Should I marry this person?", but it might give you principles to consider, like "Do not be bound to unbelievers" (2 Cor 6:14). It may not tell you, "Eat the fish, not the cake," but it does tell you "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3) There are principles throughout God's Word that can answer lots of these questions. Many of these answers go to motive rather than specifics, but once the motive is pointed out, the specifics are answered, too. "Should I spend the extra money on a nice car or be more frugal with a practical-but-less-expensive car?" is not found in the pages of the Bible, but the principle that we are stewards of what God has given us is in there and the fact that we aren't intended to make our own pleasures our guide is in there and so on. At the bottom, the two clearest guiding principles are not contended: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. When we ask these kinds of "What is God's will for my life?" questions, the first criteria we have to ask ourselves is "Which of the choices I'm looking at are out of love for God and love for my neighbor?" Honestly, that clears a broad swath of questions right there.

The Bible does have answers about the will of God. It has some very specific answers (e.g., Mic 6:8; 1 Thess 4:3; 1 Thess 5:18; 1 Peter 2:15; 1 Peter 4:2). It has some obvious answers, like every command written down in its pages. It has clear principles like love God and love your neighbor and "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Php 2:3-4). Here's the difficulty, then. In order for you to know what the will of God is for your life -- in the big things and in the little, in the small moments of life and in the overarching issues, in how to live and where to go and what to do -- the thing you have to do is know God's Word. What are the commands? What are the instructions? What are the principles? What is the point? God's Word does answer the question, far more often, I think, than we realize. The problem is not that there aren't answers. The problem is that we're not looking for them on the open ground of God's breathed message to us.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Jesus is the Answer

I was traveling this weekend. On the road, a car passed me with the bumper sticker, "Jesus is the answer!" And it made me ask, "What was the question?" I mean, there are lots of things to which He is not. "What is 2 + 2?" Jesus is not likely the answer. "How do I get to the airport from here?" Jesus is probably not the answer. "Excuse me, can I give you a hand?" Definitely not "Jesus." So what kind of questions are we asking to which Jesus is the answer?

Some of these are obvious.

"What must I do to be saved?" "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). "How can I have peace with God?" "In Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace ..." (Eph 2:13-14). "How can I deal with my troubles?" "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). "How do I deal with my guilt?" "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28). More, "If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins ..." (1 John 2:1-2). Jesus is clearly the answer.

But there is so much more.

Why am I here? "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever" (Rom 11:36). One that has bugged science and philosophy for ages is "Why does anything exist at all?" Science can't figure out how atoms hold together and philosophy wonders why there is anything rather than nothing. "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:17). To these and more, Jesus is the answer.

These are examples of genuine and important questions to which Jesus is, indeed, the answer. Jesus said clearly and concisely,
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him." (John 14:6-7)
All sorts of answers. "What way should I go?" "Where do I find truth?" "Where do I find life?" And, "How can I know God?" All right there. Lots and lots of questions to which Jesus is the answer.

Maybe He's not the answers to your math quiz or "the care and feeding of a pet," but He is the real answer to the most important questions of life. Just look to Him.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sanctify Them

We all know the Lord's Prayer. The disciples asked Jesus, "Teach us to pray" and that's what He gave them (Matt 6:5-13; Luke 11:1-4). But the term "the Lord's Prayer" might better be used to refer to Jesus's "High Priestly Prayer," the prayer He made at the end of His life (John 17). Any follower of Christ (read "Christian") would want to know and follow His prayer there. In the middle of it, He says this:
"Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. (John 17:17)
"Sanctify them." To sanctify means to make holy, to consecrate, to purify. In the Jewish mentality it means to make "other." We think of that "other" as "distinct from sin", but it is much, much more. Jesus's prayer to the Father on behalf of His disciples was that He would make His disciples "other" -- distinct, separate, different. How?

"Sanctify them in the truth." His prayer was that His disciples would be distinguished -- from sin, from the flesh, from the world -- in this sense: "in the truth." Truth is that which corresponds to reality. In simple matters, humans get that; there is air, there is gravity, one and one make two ... that kind of thing. But we know that Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelievers (2 Cor 4:4), that the primary problem with natural human beings is the suppression of truth (Rom 1:18), and that natural man lacks the ability to understand the things of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14). Jesus, then, asked the Father that His followers would be set apart in the truth because the rest of the world didn't have that. Not the important truth. Not God's truth. Not the truth that saves. And where can that truth be found?

"Your word is truth." All that God says is truth. All that God breathes (2 Tim 3:16-17) is truth. It is the water that Christ uses to sanctify His Bride to present to Himself a spotless, unwrinkled, holy, and blameless wife (Eph 5:26-27). It is sufficient. It can keep us from sin (Psa 119:9,11). It overcomes the devil (1 John 2:14). It cleanses (John 15:3).

Jesus wanted His disciples to be set apart -- sanctified -- in the truth. Not just any truth; the truth in God's word. God's truth. So why do you suppose it is that God's word has been under attack since the beginning of time? And what do you suppose the real issue is with those who claim to be followers of Christ but have no love for the word of God? We are not "bibliolaters" -- we don't worship a book. Others do; Moslems, for instance. Not us. We worship God and, as such, want to hang on His every word. Because our Savior's prayer is that we would be sanctified by it.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

News Weakly - 11/23/19

Weaponized Tolerance
Chick-fil-A's Chairman and CEO, Dan Cathy, is known as a Christian who opposes gay mirage. (I didn't spell that wrong.) Tax records obtained in 2011 showed that he and his operators, the WinShape Foundation, had invested millions of dollars to keep marriage marriage. This, of course, cannot be tolerated, so the LGBT community went to war with Chick-fil-A. Mind you, no one has ever been turned away from a Chick-fil-A store. No one has ever heard, "We don't want your kind around here." Chick-fil-A stores have never discriminated against anyone. It doesn't matter. They have been banned from venues ranging from airports to entire cities. Their first entry in to the UK was shutdown because of the LGBT campaigners who demanded that the Chick-fil-A owners change their religious beliefs to correspond with the LGBT views. They've won. The company will stop giving to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and to the Salvation Army per the demands of the "tolerant" LGBT. "No, you cannot have your religious beliefs because they're too intolerant. You must replace them with our beliefs or pay the consequences. Because we're the tolerant ones and we'll hurt you worse if you don't say 'uncle'." Oh, and you can be sure that they won't back off now, either on Chick-fil-A or anyone else who has an opposing opinion. Giving in to terrorists only makes them bolder.

Trademarking Ageism
Last month a twenty-something politician in New Zealand was heard to blow off an older person with the dismissive, "Ok, boomer," a meme that has been going around aimed at disregarding or mocking the older generation because the younger generation feels like they're not being heard. Now Fox has filed a trademark application for the phrase. The suggestion is that Fox will use the phrase for a new show -- reality, comedy, game show, something like that. So the idea is, "Let's expand the idea that old people are worthless. Let's address this concern that the younger generation isn't being heard ... by no longer hearing the older generation." Because, as we all know, education and life experience only makes you stupid, and the truly wise folks are the young.

Kosher Vegan
"Kosher" is a Jewish term. It refers to food or the premises in which food is sold, cooked, or eaten as satisfying Jewish dietary laws. There are foods banned by Jewish dietary law, but the rules go further, requiring, for instance, that meat cannot contact dairy. That is, preparation is part of kosher. Apparently vegans have their own "kosher." A vegan is suing Burger King because they cooked a plant-based alternative to the classic Whopper on the same apparatus as a beef Whopper. Now, Burger King did tell everyone that they would be cooked in an "open kitchen environment" and haven't called their product "vegan" or "vegetarian," and A&W has been cooking their meatless option on the same grill as the beef burgers, but Burger King (Can you say "deep pockets"?) is gonna pay! Because if it's not kosher vegan, it's not vegan ... even if they never said it was.

The New "Fair"
A self-admitted illegal alien who was in the habit of riding the light rail in Phoenix without paying was stopped last week in a fare sweep by the Phoenix police. She was going to her job with LUCHA, an immigration advocacy group, so she could pay for bills and for health care for sick family member when they did a random check. She admitted she didn't pay. She gave her name but refused to give her date of birth. Protocol required they detain her until they could properly identify her, but when the handcuffs went on she told them what they wanted to know and they released her with a citation. In response, LUCHA is demanding that police stop enforcing fare payments for illegal immigrants ... because that's what's fair. The light rail is meant for people who cannot afford it, so stop making those who can't pay pay. Laws that aren't enforced should not be on the books. And just ask California how not enforcing laws works out.

Another Brick in the Wall
We live in a world of extreme caution. It's too easy to "trigger" someone somewhere. One group labeled the "OK" hand signal as a hate symbol. We live in fear of "microagression." And Mattel is releasing a new UNO deck without any red or blue cards so the game won't be "politically charged." Because everyone knows that red isn't just a color and blue isn't just a hue. Seriously? I've played the game for years and when I first read the story I thought, "I never even noticed the colors of the cards." (Titus 1:15)

Net Zero is Not Zero
Maybe you've heard the term. They want us to have "net zero carbon emissions." "Net zero"? Yes. It sounds like "zero," like they're working to decrease emissions, but the "net" is a weasel word and they're not. So EasyJet Plc plans to become the first air carrier company to have a "net zero carbon emissions." By decreasing the carbon emissions? No. By making more efficient engines that produce less emissions? No. By "buying offsets." No actual decrease. "EasyJet will spend an estimated 25 million pounds ($32.3 million) on projects that include planting trees and protecting against deforestation," the story says. Buy trees or, maybe, just protect existing ones. No, that doesn't help the CO2 problem; it just doesn't add to it. Net zero. Because of the outcry over its contribution to climate change. Which, as it turns out, no one has quantified.

Unreasonable Expectations
So, a genuine lunatic walks into a Walmart in El Paso and starts killing people. The nation is devastated and outraged. Apparently, though, not as much as the victims and their families, because they, with the aid of the Mexican government, are filing suit against the Walmart for "not taking reasonable and necessary measures to protect its customers from the attack." Now, I ask you: what would constitute "reasonable and necessary measures to protect its customers" from a lunatic? What do we/they expect? A ubiquitous presence of heavily armed security? Maybe bunkers for safety? What is the "reasonable" defense against the unreasonable? (And are shoppers in Mexico safer from attack than shoppers in El Paso? I don't think so.)

Science Brings Up the Rear
Scientists are excited because they've discovered that at least one kind of snake in the ancient past actually had legs. Of course, we knew that already, didn't we (Gen 3:14)?

Babylon's Jest
The Babylon Bee has a story out about how Trump has come out in favor of his own impeachment because the Democrats will do the opposite of whatever he says. Ha, ha. I'm in favor of impeaching Trump, however, because his replacement will be Mike Pence, and how many Democrats want an actual, practicing Christian in the White House? The laugh would be on them.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Unite My Heart

So, I'm reading through the Psalms and I come across this interesting verse.
Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. (Psa 86:11)
Okay, perhaps just interesting to me.

I find it interesting in contrast to the popular view these days that we cannot know the truth. We can only have our opinions. David wrote this psalm and he says, "Teach me Your way, O LORD." I'm waiting for today's smarter folk who will correct David. "You can't know His way; you can only have your own hunches." David believed he could know and he could know from the LORD.

I find it interesting to contrast David's view of truth with today's cultural view. Truth is relative. It's personal. It's not objective. But David says, "I will walk in Your truth," as if God's truth is something knowable and valuable and valid, and His truth tells us how to live.

What really caught my attention, though, was that last phrase. I've thought often about the concept of "the fear of the Lord." Are we supposed to fear God or not? Lots of genuine believers say, "No!" They say it's not fear, but "reverential awe." Some translations even substitute that phrase or a similar one for "fear" in these places. But the word in the originals, both Old Testament and New, don't leave room for that. They refer to actual fear. So it wasn't that which caught my attention. It was the "unite my heart" phrase. James warns against being "double-minded" (James 1:8). David agrees. David prays that God would gather together the strands of his heart -- his thoughts and emotions, his desires and fears, his plans and propensities -- into one stream: the fear of the Lord. David asks to have one uniting consideration in life, and that's the fear of God. "Tie together all the loose ends of my heart -- the wayward parts, the ragtag pieces flapping in the breezes of life -- and give them the singular focus of fearing You." Because David likely knew, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Psa 111:10). He certainly knew, "The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever" (Psa 19:9). He definitely knew that the lack of the fear of God was a problem (Psa 36:1).

Is that your prayer? I want to make it mine. "Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name." Because sometimes it's easy to get other things in my heart distracting me from the right fear of God, cutting me off from Him. I don't need those kinds of problems.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

An Experiment

Some of us are old enough to remember the ad series that had the tagline, "When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen." Today we could make a new one: "When Trump speaks, people get mad." It doesn't really matter what he says. "Haters are gonna hate," they say, and Trump has a large "hate" following. I have nowhere near that kind of following, but there are still people that get upset almost regardless of what I say. "This verse says this" (and I give the reference and even the text) and they're mad. Why? I don't really know. Honestly. Well, sometimes it's because I've stepped on their toes or I've disagreed with their view of things or they feel like I've said that what they're doing is wrong (and, I suppose, sometimes I have), but more often than not it's simply because I said, "This verse says this." (Like the other day when I made the audacious claim that the Bible is opposed to sexual immorality.) So I'm going to try an experiment. Today I'm going to post something that should offend no one and see if, because Stan speaks, it's offensive.
________

Here are some aircraft maintenance complaints/problems, generally known as squawks, submitted over the years by pilots to maintenance crews. After attending to the squawks, maintenance crews are required to log the details of the action taken to solve the pilots' squawks.

Defect: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
Action: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

Defect: Test flight OK, except autoland very rough.
Action: Autoland not installed on this aircraft.

Defect: No. 2 propeller seeping prop fluid.
Action: No. 2 propeller seepage normal. Nos. 1, 3 and 4 propellers lack normal seepage.

Defect: Something loose in cockpit.
Action: Something tightened in cockpit.

Defect: Dead bugs on windshield.
Action: Live bugs on backorder.

Defect: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200-fpm descent.
Action: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

Defect: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
Action: Evidence removed.

Defect: DME volume unbelievably loud.
Action: Volume set to more believable level.

Defect: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
Action: That's what they are there for!

Defect: IFF doesn't work in Official mode.
Action: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.
(Note: This was actually a "squawk" I got in my days in the Air Force.)

Defect: Suspected crack in windscreen.
Action: Suspect you're right.

Defect: Number 3 engine missing.
Action: After brief search, engine found on right wing.

Defect: Aircraft handles funny.
Action: Aircraft warned to "Straighten up, fly Right, and be serious."

Defect: Target radar hums.
Action: Reprogrammed target radar with words.

Defect: Mouse in cockpit.
Action: Cat installed.

Defect: The autopilot doesn't.
Action: IT DOES NOW.

Defect: Turn & slip indicator ball stuck in center during turns.
Action: Congratulations. You just made your first coordinated turn!

Defect: Whining sound heard on engine shutdown.
Action: Pilot removed from aircraft.

Defect: Pilot's clock inoperative.
Action: Wound clock.

Defect: Autopilot tends to drop a wing when fuel imbalance reaches 500 pounds.
Action: Flight manual limits maximum fuel imbalance to 300 pounds.

Defect: #2 ADF needle runs wild.
Action: Caught and tamed #2 ADF needle.

Defect: Unfamiliar noise coming from #2 engine.
Action: Engine run for four hours. Noise now familiar.

Defect: Noise coming from #2 engine. Sounds like man with little hammer.
Action: Took little hammer away from man in #2 engine.

Defect: Whining noise coming from #2 engine compartment.
Action: Returned little hammer to man in #2 engine.

Defect: Flight attendant cold at altitude.
Action: Ground checks OK.

Defect: 3 roaches in cabin.
Action: 1 roach killed, 1 wounded, 1 got away.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Make It Safe

The argument went something like this. "Sure, it would be better if people didn't shoot heroin, but they will, so we need to make it safe." So they handed out needles to those who wanted them. "Yes, it's probably better if they don't have sex before they are adults, but they will, so we need to make it safe." So they handed out condoms and birth control pills to high school kids. We're still doing it. "We would hope that no one would abort their baby, but some will, so we need to make it safe." So they try to remove all limits and make the citizens pay for the woman's intent to murder her baby ... safely.

It makes no sense. None at all. Years ago when the high-school-kids-need-condoms craze was at its height, my daughter (in high school at the time) bought the story (because she saw it on one of those teen shows on TV). "That makes sense. You can put a fence around a pool, but kids are going to climb over anyway, so you need to make it safe." So I offered to discuss it with her. She agreed that giving needles to junkies was the right thing to do. She agreed that giving condoms to high school kids was the right thing to do. "So," I went on, "how about those darn drive-by shootings gangs are doing? Now, we don't want them to do it, but they will, so we should do what we can to make it safe, right? Send them to a school to teach them to drive and shoot accurately? Give them smarter weapons that only shoot at their intended targets? What would you suggest?"

We've bought this lie, hook, line and sinker. We've dragged it to the bottom and are pulling hard at it. "They will do it" becomes the only valid concern. Not "Is it right?" or "Is it healthy?" or "Is it good?" We make it safer to do things that aren't safe and easier to do things that shouldn't be done. And we are outraged if anyone protests. And we pat ourselves on the back for being wise and progressive. While people die. Or worse. Makes no sense. Just because people will do something doesn't make it right. Try to tell that to today's culture.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Stating the Obvious

Here's a short list for you: Matt 15:19; Rom 13:13; 1 Cor 6:9-13, 18; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19-21; 1 Thess 4:3-5; Eph 5:3-5; 1 Tim 1:10; Rev 2:14, 20; Rev 21:8; Rev 22:15. You can look them up or you can point at them and see what they say or you can just wait for it, right? There is a common theme. And since many argue things like "There aren't enough references to that to make it an issue," I would hope that this list shows how this topic does indeed have enough references to make it an issue.

We can debate all sorts of topics in and out of the church on the subject of morality. What is and what isn't? We can go to the specific -- "Is oral sex a sin? Anal? How about a woman on her period?" We can go more broadly -- "Is homosexuality a sin or just homosexual behavior? Or neither?" We can really string it out -- "Is it always a sin to lie, or if we are, say, protecting people from the Nazis, is it okay to lie?" Always testing the boundaries. Is this okay? That? We're afraid, it seems, of getting to heaven and finding out that, doggone it, we gave up too much for God. But the topic of that list (and more) is not one of these kinds of debates. No one can dodge this one. Scripture is abundantly clear. Sexual immorality is a big deal in biblical terms.

You'd think we'd know this. You'd think it would be obvious. You'd think that we could see it on a daily basis on our billboards and televisions and our entertainment and our computers. You'd think that we could hear it in our conversations and our radios. You'd think that the #MeToo thing and the rising tide of LGBT forces demanding you surrender your faith to their demands would raise awareness that sexual immorality is a big problem. You'd think that the decline of marriage and the increase in single parent homes and the rise of sexually-transmitted diseases would declare it to the heavens. Sexual immorality is a big thing. Paul writes, "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body" (1 Cor 6:18), but we still insist on indulging -- maybe physically, certainly mentally. As it turns out, as believers, we do it adulterously against our Bridegroom. We tell Him, "You are not enough." To our shame.

The Bible considers all manner of sexual behavior to be sin. The only God-approved sex is marital sex. Anything else -- physically or mentally -- is "sexual immorality." And not in a good way.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Coming and Going

Two people meet on the street. They walk with each other a short way, exchange pleasantries, and go on their merry ways. Were they in agreement? Well, they were in the same place at the same time, so they must have been ... right?

It's interesting how many times we do this in Christian circles. "I believe in Jesus." "Oh, really! So do I!" So we walk down the street together and exchange pleasantries. As it turns out, when we get to the next corner, we're parting ways because we aren't at all in agreement in the end. Why? How does that happen?

There is a standard of truth. That truth has a starting point and an ending point. If we come from a different starting point or go to a different ending point, the fact that we intersect for a moment is no reason to assume we're in agreement, even remotely. We see this in Christian circles. Here we are, standing in agreement, that we're Christians; we're followers of Christ. But are we, or are we just at an intersecting point of two lines? You have to ask where it comes from and where it is going to find out. Jesus warned about false prophets (Matt 7:15). He warned that false christs and false prophets would rise and lead people astray (Mark 13:22). So we shouldn't be surprised that there might be some false christians -- followers of a false christ. To find out, you need to draw a line -- to see where Christ came from and where Christ is going.

So where does the true Christ come from? He was "with God" and "was God" (John 1:1). Not a mere man. He didn't come to express His opinions or preach His own message; He came in His Father's name (John 5:43) -- sent by the Father (John 8:16) -- charged by His Father (John 10:18) to say what the Father told Him (John 8:28). He came to earth to die for our sins (1 Cor 15:3) and rise again to give us new life (Rom 6:4). He redeemed us (Gal 3:13) by paying for our sins with His blood (1 John 1:7) to appease God's wrath (Rom 3:23-25;1 John 2:2). There's a start. If that's not where your Jesus came from, we are talking about different Jesus's when we both say, "I follow Jesus."

Where is the true Christ going? He said He was going to His Father (John 14:2-3). God's will has been that all things would be united in Christ (Eph 1:9-10). He is "seated at the right hand of God" (Heb 12:2) with all authority (Matt 28:18). He came to display the glory of God (John 1:14; John 11:40) -- to glorify God (John 14:8-9; John 17:4). His direction has always been the glory of God. If that is not the direction of the Jesus you follow, we're talking about different Jesus's when we both say, "I follow Jesus."

There are other Jesus's out there. They share the name, but they're not the same Jesus. There is a Jesus who came because He loved us so much He just couldn't help it. There is a Jesus who came to solve world hunger and sickness. There is a Jesus who came not to die for sin, but to just demonstrate that God wins. There is a Jesus whose aim is to make our lives better, whose primary goal is to make bad people into good people, who winks at sin and embraces everyone. There are lots of versions of "Christ" out there. As Jesus promised, there is only one and the others are false christs.

Two people meet on the street. "I'm a Christian; I follow Christ." "Oh, good! I'm a Christian and I follow Christ." That's all well and good, but it's entirely possible that the Christ one is following is a false christ who came from somewhere Christ did not and is going somewhere Christ is not and following that christ is a bad idea. The intersection of the two based on the name is nice, but one is salvation and one is fatal. It's important to know which is which.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Enough

Psalm 73 is a common complaint. Asaph wrote it (Is that a name or a title?). In it, he complains about the wicked. They always seem to get ahead. They prosper (Psa 73:3), get fat (Psa 73:4), live prideful lives (Psa 73:6), and no one calls them out (Psa 73:10). They even malign God (Psa 73:11) and get away with it. It really bothered Asaph (Psa 73:16). Then "I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end" (Psa 73:17).

Asaph's response isn't quite what we're used to. Well, sure, he's confident of their final outcome (Psa 73:18-19), but his final answer is not really what you'd expect. Here is the famous, "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You" (Psa 73:25), but that's not his final answer. He's satisfied that justice will be served (Psa 73:27), but that's not his final answer. Instead, he writes, "For me it is good to be near God." Asaph's answer to the problem that the rich get richer and the wicked seem to prosper while good people suffer is "For me it is good to be near God." It isn't "They'll get theirs" and it isn't "We'll win out in the end" even though both are true. To him, God is enough.

It's the same thing we see from Jeremiah. His hope was gone, his endurance had perished (Lam 3:18), and he was at the end.
“The LORD is my portion, therefore I will hope in Him." (Lam 3:24)
Same answer. God is enough. Not revenge, justice, preservation, prosperity. Just God.

You get the same kind of response from those three Jewish boys at the mouth of a hot Babylonian oven. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Dan 3:17-18). In other words, "God might save us from this, but we don't serve Him because of what He does for us. We worship Him for who He is." Or, "For us, it is good to be near God."

This is, at its core, the fundamental problem with the Prosperity Gospel. "I'm in this for what I can get." At that, it is no gospel, as demonstrated by the fact that not everyone who hangs on that theology prospers. We are saved by declaring Jesus as Lord, not be acquiescing to let Him do nice things for us. In so doing, we obtain the best, but that "best" is Him and Him alone. Can you say that? Can you agree that "for me it is good to be near God," and that's enough? If not, you're missing the best and looking at an idol.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

News Weekly - 11/16/18

The Standard Double Standard
So, last week Hoyt Hutchinson of Alabama knifed a "Baby Trump" balloon in protest of Trump's visit to Alabama. The nation was outraged at the clear hatred and vandalism. Oh, wait, not quite. As it turns out, supporters started a GoFundMe page and have raised (at this story) over $30,000 to pay for his legal fees (the aim was $6,000) and another one intending to "FREE HOYT" raised an additional $12,000. Now, you know that if it had been a Bernie balloon or, heaven forbid, an AOC balloon or the like, the outcry would have been universal and those currently trying to pay this man's way out of jail would be paying to keep that person in for life. Stinkin' vandal. Because double standards are the standard these days.

Update
Turns out the balloon was a Trump protest and the knife-wielder was a pro-Trump guy. Still stands. When the left breaks the law and excuses it because it was against the right or if the right breaks the law and excuses it because it was against the left, the double standard prevails. I oppose double standards.

Free For All
Elizabeth Warren's "Medicare for All" plan -- that nifty $52 trillion package -- apparently is intended to include free taxpayer-funded health care for illegal immigrants. I include this in my weakly report not because I think it's significant (sure, it's significant), but because I'm surprised it's news. Illegal immigrants already have access to free health care. Well, considering the price tag for everyone else, perhaps "free" is the wrong term ...

Flooding the Market
GLAAD is the organization that seeks to ensure universal acceptance of all things "LGBT." Convinced that the LGBTQ population has jumped from 2.5% to 20%, they are "calling on the industry to ensure that 20 percent of series regular characters on primetime scripted broadcast series are LGBTQ by 2025." I'm wondering when Christians will begin to face the fact that our world is not accepting of your biblical views and David (Psa 101:3; Psa 119:37) was a lot wiser than many of us are today. How long will we continue to feed our minds with Satan's lies and consider it "entertainment"?

Wholesome TV -- an Oxymoron
Some conservatives today, especially Christian conservatives, are concerned about Disney's tumble into our society's moral collapse. Disney has drunk the koolaid, so to speak. They put a gay couple in an animated children's series and made Elsa into a lesbian for Frozen 2, just to give some recent examples. So it shouldn't come as a surprise, as Disney launches their new Disney+ that they feel the need to warn customers that classic animations like 1941's Dumbo or 1955's Lady and the Tramp offer "outdated cultural depictions." Of the classic 1946 Song of the South they assured us we would likely never see it again. In a world cut loose from traditional morality and tossed feet first into a morass of "easily offended," we really shouldn't expect any less.

Tax the Wealthy (as defined by the other wealthy)
Elizabeth Warren is in the top 1% of America's wealthy. They tell me that she is worth about $8 million. Joe Biden is worth more ($9 million), but she is #2 in the current gaggle of Democrats, wealthier even than Bernie ($2 million). So, of course, she's demanding a wealth tax that will pay for ... well ... everything. As long as mere millionaires don't have to contribute.

To add to the fray, AOC and Bernie unveiled their next step, a plan to spend $180 billion to retrofit and repair public housing "with the goal of eliminating all carbon emissions." The rest of us will have to (emphasize the "have to") pay for it ourselves, I guess. Luckily there are billions of dollars available in billionaires' bank accounts. (And why is AOC siding with the rich old white man? Isn't he, by definition, a racist sexist capitalist?)

Almost Not News
Reportedly Hillary Clinton called a suicide hotline to "place an order."

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Temporary Shelter

We humans have a strange sense of priorities. We are typically our own first cause. That's just human. But we are dedicated to the here and now, this immediate life. We live in what we know to be mortal shells with a limited lifespan and we do all we can to try to gain the most pleasure from it with very little apparent regard for the bigger picture -- eternity.

The Bible describes us as pottery (Isa 29:16; Rom 9:21) The Bible says that God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3:11), but that this life is a vapor (James 4:14), a shadow (1 Chr 29:15). David wrote,
O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! (Psa 39:4-5)
"Life is short." We have t-shirts that begin with that fact. So where do we go from there? We'll stick in something immediate -- "... so eat dessert first" -- or foolish, like the acronym, "YOLO," for "you only live once" by which we mean "so be as stupid as you want to be." (Why does YOLO never mean "You only live once, so do the hard things, do the best things, do the eternal things"?) Even in our recognition of the fleeting nature of life we embrace the temporary over the eternal.

So we -- even Christians -- live our lives largely in the temporary. We're most concerned about things that won't last and most animated about the short-term. It's politics or making money or fame or "stuff." We work hard for that which we cannot keep and refuse to sacrifice to gain that which we cannot lose. We consider it an affront that God would allow people to die, as if God owes it to us to enlarge the immediate and diminish the infinite. We Christians know that life is short and eternity is ours and still we muddle about working the immediate and complaining about missed meals like the Israelites in the desert.

Brethren, these things ought not be. We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20), strangers and exiles on earth (Heb 11:13). We're eternal people suited in temporary shelters to do God's work until He calls us home. Shouldn't we be taking a broader view? Shouldn't we be living with longer aims? Sure, we need some things to be here doing what God wants us to do, but He has assured us He'll provide that (Php 4:19). Why are we so caught up in the here and now? How could we ask things like, "Should I give to the church or get out of debt?" We are children of God given eternal life and too often all we see is the here and now. We need to look beyond.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Col 3:2)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Hate or Not

We who read our Bibles as if they mean something understand that one sexual sin included in Scripture is the sin of homosexual behavior. And alarm bells go off. People load their "weapons" and prepare to fire. "It's hate!" they shout. "Bigot!" they fire. Some might even threaten legal action or get together a committee to see about outlawing such hate speech.

Why? What about that statement is hate? Why does my view that the Bible clearly calls X a sin get labeled as "hate"? I didn't suggest doing anything about it. I'm not suggesting we need to rally and drive them from the streets or some such nonsense. I think that the best place someone in the sin of homosexual behavior to be would be in my church. I'm not in favor of excluding or tormenting them. Oh, I won't participate in their sin, but I wouldn't want to encourage a bank robber to rob banks or give a burglar pointers on breaking and entering while I consider their behaviors sin, too. They want me to give them what they want; I want to give them what they need. Why is it hate? (And why am I "hateful" but you're not hateful for hating me for it?)

Part of the reason that many classify it as hate, to be sure, is the shameful response some Christians have to the declaration that it is sin. "Yes! It's sin! Let's beat the devil out of them!" As if something like that can be done. Family and friends spurn friends and family because they're engaged in "that" sin while not doing the same for other, just as obvious sins. "Oh, you're sleeping with your girlfriend. Well, then, invite her over for dinner, too." "Oh, you cheated on your taxes? Well, come over and show me how." But it appears as if too many self-proclaimed Christians don't sin much themselves but are in the business of pulling specks out of other people's eyes and do so with vicious vigor. So that would be considered "hate" even by me. The goal of the Gospel is not to make bad people better; it's to make dead people alive. A more moral person will still end up in hell if he or she doesn't have a relationship with Christ. Better laws don't fix the problem.

So why do I continue to point out that the Bible clearly calls "that sin" a sin? (I put "that sin" in quotes because this isn't just about homosexual behavior. A lot of things fall in the "that sin" category.) I am not hoping to make them stop doing that. I am concerned that they might not be aware of the jeopardy they are in. Now, frankly, I can't save them from that jeopardy. I suppose, if they claim to be a Christian, I have an obligation to avoid them (1 Cor 5:9-13), but the goal there is restoration, not punishment or banishment (Gal 6:1). But my concern for those who don't know Christ is not to make them into better people. My concern is that they would come to know the One who actually can fix their problem, and I'm not talking here about "that sin"; I'm talking about all sin. And that is not hate. Unless "hoping for their very best" is classified as "hate." But, of course, I wouldn't be surprised if it was. We live in a mixed up world.