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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Keeping the Gospel in Christmas

What Child is This? is a well-known carol written by William Chatterton Dix, first published in 1871. Bill (if I can call him that) was a manager for an insurance company in the UK. After a severe illness, he underwent a spiritual renewal. He ended up writing several poems, including The Manger Throne, from which this song was taken.
What child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
The song asks questions. This one is "What child is this?" Who is Jesus? The answer is loud and clear: Christ the King. He is guarded by shepherds and lauded by angels. He is the son of Mary. But He is none other than Christ, the King.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
The second question, then, is "why?" Why is He in a stable? "Mean" is a reference to "lowly", not "unkind". And, in that, what is He doing here?

The call is for fear. Fear? "Good Christians, fear." The Babe, silent here, is the Word of God (John 1:1) made flesh. And He pleads for sinners. So fear Him, respect Him, hold Him in reverential awe.

Why is He here? Jesus was born to die. "Nails, spear shall pierce Him through." Beyond that, He was born to die for you and me. This is the point of Christmas. God became flesh to die for us -- this Babe, this Son of Mary.
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
At last, then, is our response. Christ, the King, is come in humble attire, the Word made flesh, to die for you and me. In response, we need to enthrone Him in our hearts. In a quite unique twist, we are to respond in joy that this baby was born to die. Not just any baby -- God, the Son.

When you celebrate Christmas this year and you try to keep Christ in Christmas, remember that the celebration isn't just about His arrival; It's about His purpose and the sacrifice He came to make on our behalf so that you and I can be made right with God. Truly something marvelous. Truly something to celebrate. We must absolutely keep Christ in Christmas, but, more to the point, we must keep the Gospel in Christmas.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

News Weakly - 12/16/17

Seriously??
Apparently Merriam-Webster has decided their word of the year for 2017 is "feminism". The story says, "Yes, it's been a big year or two or 100 for the word." (Emphasis mine) Got that right. The word, morphed and twisted for a century now, has caused more problems than we even recognize, but with the "MeToo" drive, the Women's March, the whole "every guy is a sexual abuser" atmosphere of the day, and all, well, you can see how the word might describe 2017 ... and not always in a good way.

Internet Sensation
Keaton James became in Internet sensation this week with a video of him crying about being bullied in school and asking why they do it. The support was huge. Of course, the GoFundMe account was closed to more donations because it looked suspicious. Why did this unfortunate boy need $57,000 in donations? Seems as if we can't even complain about real problems right. (And what will that kid's life be like in the future now that he is permanently marked as the kid who cried about bullies on the Internet?)

A Simple Case of Mine over Matter
A panel of inquiry in Australia has examined the problem of pedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church and has concluded that the solution is for the Roman Catholic Church to change its theology. All they have to do is to give up celibacy for the clergy. Hmmm.

Now, mind you, I am firmly convinced that the Catholic church is wrong on that point (among others), but isn't it interesting? 1) The Australian panel (along with a whole lot of the rest of the world) believes that a religion can change its theology at will. "God said it, we believe it, that settles it ... Oops! No, it doesn't! We've changed our mind and, we're quite sure, God will change His right along with us. He's a good God that way." I suppose if religion is "mine", that works. Most of them are not. 2) The Australian panel (along with a whole lot of the rest of the world) believes that the problem for Roman Catholic pedophile priests is that they're not getting "righteous sex" and if they were to get sex in marriage the whole perversion thing would go away. I cannot even begin to imagine how anyone could possibly conclude that. Seriously.

To Die is Gain
No jokes, no sarcasm. Dr. R.C. Sproul has gone to be with the Lord. He was a man with a singular dedication to God and His Word, affecting many lives for Christ. He will be missed. On the other hand, he's no longer having breathing problems, no longer getting old, no longer unsure on any point of his theology. I remember him saying once, "People have asked me, 'R.C., if you can ask one question of God when you get to heaven, what will that be? I tell them, 'Ask a question??? I plan to be on my face worshiping for the first 10,000 years or more." R.C. is now in the presence of the Holy One of Israel.

Expect a brief eulogy from me next week.

Chief Among Sinners
As we all know, one of the chief sins of the day is when people (well, white people) commit what is called "cultural appropriation". You know ... like when Ivanka Trump wore an Oriental-style outfit on a trip to India. Or the horrors of non-Moroccans indulging in henna decorations. Or when Jesus took on human form.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Temptation

Pope Francis made the news when he suggested that the Lord's Prayer needs to be reworded. Now, to be fair, he was not suggesting that Jesus was wrong. He was suggesting that the translation is ... questionable. Or, more precisely, that modern language might misinterpret it.

First, let me be clear. I am not taking "the pope" to task. I am examining the idea. So please don't think of this as an "anti-pope rant" or something like it.

So, what was the text in question? When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He included the line, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (Matt 6:13) The pope suggested that this could easily be misconstrued to mean that God is capable of leading us into temptation. "No, no," he offered, "it should be more like 'do not let us enter into temptation'." So, let's think about this.

First, let's ask if he's right. Is it possible for God to tempt us with evil? The Bible is absolutely clear on this point.
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one." (James 1:13)
It is true, then, that God cannot (more accurately "does not") tempt people with evil. Furthermore, the prayer says "deliver us from evil", so clearly the notion of God leading people into evil is not the idea here. In other words, a simple knowledge of straightforward Scripture eliminates the problem.

But that's not a complete answer. I don't think we properly understand what is being said. So let's look at the words used. First is the word "lead" -- "lead us not". The word is εἰσφέρω -- eispherō. It means literally "to carry inward". It means "to bring into" or "to lead into". I'm sorry, but "do not let us enter" is no the same as this word. The thinking in the modified version is that God takes a more "hands off" approach. He doesn't lead us into temptation; He lets us go into temptation. It's not His fault; it's ours. But the language suggests that the prayer actually is that God would not lead us into temptation.

So, what is this thing called "temptation"? That word is πειρασμός -- peirasmos. It is from peirazō, meaning "to test". That test, that "putting to proof", may be by testing good or by experiencing evil. It is often a reference to "trials", another word for adversity. Thus, this "temptation" would not be "tempted to do evil", but "trials". If that is the meaning here, it is precisely the prayer that Jesus prayed at Gethsemane -- "Let this cup pass from Me." (Matt 26:34) The prayer would be, "Please don't take me into trials I cannot bear."1

Now, sometimes the word is used in the "tempted to do evil" sense. If that is the case here, does it mean that Jesus is suggesting that God would tempt us to do evil, so we ask Him not to? Not at all. As we've already seen, God does not tempt to evil and the prayer is for deliverance from evil. That can't be the meaning. We do know, however, that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (as an example) (Exo 9:12, Rom 9:17-18) and that a hardened heart is evil, so in what sense does God not cause evil but does harden hearts (for example)? That would come about by God removing His hand. That is an active event on His part. We know that He is our protection (Psa 121:7; Isa 41:10; 2 Tim 4:18; 2 Thess 3:3; 2 Sam 22:3-4; Phil 2:13). If He withdraws that protection, we are led into temptation, both to evil and as a protection. He doesn't do the leading, but withdrawing His protection allows it.

There is, at its root, another difficulty to examine with the objection to the current reading of the text. What is in mind here is that God does not take an active role in "temptation". The idea is to keep God from getting accused of causing evil. But "is this trip really necessary?" I don't think so. First, Scripture claims that God hardens whom He will (Rom 9:18). Let's not assume what He does not assume. Scripture also claims, as we've already seen, that He doesn't lead us into evil. We also know that God Himself claims, "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isa 45:7). So let's not remove from God what God claims for Himself.

God does allow trials (James 1:2-4) -- "temptations". (Note: That word is the exact word used in the Lord's prayer.) In those cases they are for our benefit. God does allow evil for His purposes (Prov 16:4). While "temptation" may not always mean "tempted to evil" and while God does not tempt to evil, let's not get the idea that God is outside of the business of testing us -- trials. Instead, let's count them "all joy" (James 1:2). And, yes, pray that He doesn't do it too often.
________
1 I'd like to point out that the word for "evil" in this phrase in the Lord's Prayer is equally ambiguous. The word is πονηρός -- ponēros. It might mean "evil" in an ethical sense (as we normally think of it) but it can also mean physical evil -- disease, etc. -- or even troubles, hardships, perils, that sort of thing. The term would include bad people, bad deeds, bad events, bad troubles, etc.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Rights and Right (or Who's Watching our Rights?)

Roy Moore lost his election bid. "Good!" most of America seems to shout. Fine. You're entitled to your opinion. And I'm not a Roy Moore fan. What I think is sad, however, is the decision of the Left, the media, and, therefore, the loudest Americans on down to deprive Roy Moore of his constitutional rights.

I heard on a fairly conservative radio show with two hosts discussing Moore before the election. "Apparently President Trump thinks it's better to vote in a pedophile than a Democrat." These guys were using their First Amendment rights to deprive him of His Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. How is that good? Like the flood of other people in this country, Moore was accused of sexual abuse. Worse, of sexual abuse of a minor. That would make him a pedophile, to be sure. And I don't know a single person who would say that a pedophile is a good thing. The principle of "innocent until proven guilty" would say that Roy Moore is not a pedophile until he is proven to be one.

But America is having none of that. We know better. The presence of the accusation makes the accusation true these days. Oh, sure, not entirely. There are certain factors. Do we like him (or her)? Do we like or feel for the person who brings the accusation? And, more than anything, what does the media say? Facts? Not an issue. The legal system? We all know you can't rely on that. The Fifth Amendment says,
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger. (U.S. Bill of Rights, Fifth Amendment)
The 14th Amendment agrees. "So?", people ask, and gladly hold Moore to answer for his "infamous crime" without indictment. He lost. Good. Will his case ever see the courtroom? One has to wonder. Will he ever be able to defend himself in court? Doubtful.

In fact, there were voices that tried to shut up Moore. They didn't like his religious views. They didn't like his political views. He should just shut up and go away ... despite the guarantee we have to free speech.

It's not like this is a surprise or a novelty. For years they have been working to deprive us of our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. (U.S. Bill of Rights, Second Amendment)
So they've chipped away at it and chipped away at it and still the loud voices cry out for "better gun control" if not a total ban on guns.

And right now in front of the Supreme Court they are arguing about another First Amendment right ... or rather, the government's right to take it away.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. (U.S. Bill of Rights, First Amendment)
Does an artist have the freedom of expression based on the freedom of the free exercise of religion, or can we just erase that one, too?

There is an irony here. I am not a person so keen on rights as others. And yet, here I am, complaining about rights. No, that's not the point. I'm not defending Moore or demanding my rights. I'm just pointing out that America is no longer a "rights friendly" place. It was argued early on that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." But we've largely pushed "their Creator" out of the window and it only stands to reason that the "unalienable Rights" He endows would be pushed out with Him. My point, then, is not rights. My point is that when we push God out of the center, it has starkly negative results.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christian What?

Okay, they lost me.

Apparently there are self-identified Christians who argue for what they call "Christian Physicalism". Christendom has argued from the beginning that we are not merely physical, but spiritual beings as well, there are some who argue that the view is "incompatible with a modern scientific worldview", so they're going to change all of Church history and scrub Scripture (see, for instance, 1 Thess 5:23) to make sure we don't think that anymore. I can still hear the echoes of "Did God really say ...?"

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Grace vs Works

So, I'm reading along in Romans and I come across a verse I can probably quote and it struck me as odd.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Rom 12:3)
Now, I can hear it now. "So?" Well, I noticed a strange juxtaposition of ideas. Paul gives the Roman believers a command ... on the basis of grace.

Huh. That's a little strange, isn't it? I mean, I know lots of people who use the word "grace" to mean "We don't really have to be obedient anymore." You know ... "It's all about grace, not law." That kind of thinking. And, yet, here we have Paul making a command on the basis of grace.

As a matter of fact, he did it earlier in the letter. In the first chapter as he introduces himself to the "beloved of God in Rome", he talks about him being called as an apostle by Jesus Christ our Lord "through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake." (Rom 1:5) There it is again -- received grace to bring about obedience.

I think that we often abuse grace. We see it as "works don't matter." They do. Martin Luther said, "We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone." James said that faith without works is dead faith (James 2:17). Our justification is demonstrated by our works. Paul stuck all three concepts together in that verse above, where he speaks of being given grace to bring about obedience of faith. At the end of that epistle Paul says that the gospel reveals Christ, "leading to obedience of faith." (Rom 16:26)

"Saved by grace through faith apart from works" (Eph 2:8-9) is a marvelous concept. Just remember, we are not saved for sin. We are mostly clear on how we're saved, but a bit murky on why. We're saved, obviously, for the glory of God, first and foremost. We're saved to "become conformed to the image of His Son." (Rom 8:29) We're actually saved to become slaves -- slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18). We're not saved to continue in sin. We're saved to make the most of God. Don't abuse His grace. He saved us to follow Him, not thumb our noses at Him.

Monday, December 11, 2017

My Body

Among the pro-abortion crowd the chant is for "the woman's right to do with her body as she chooses." Now, the pro-life side will raise the objection, "Yes, but that baby your killing isn't 'your body'." Still, is it true? Do people have the right to do with their bodies what they choose?

On the surface, despite all certainties to the positive, I think it's quite clear that we don't. I mean, there is the obvious. You can't kiss your elbow no matter what you choose. You can't tickle yourself. You can't sneeze with your eyes open. Then there is the legal. Suicide and euthanasia are still mostly illegal. There is an "age of consent" that does not allow an underage minor to engage in certain practices despite their willingness to do so. If someone engages in "cutting" or in excess alcohol, we seek treatment for them rather than indulge their whims. So, no, it is not true that you can do whatever you want with your body. Still, within limits can't we say it's our body and we can do what we please with it?

I would like to ask, however, the earlier question. Not, "Is it your right to do what you want with your body?", but "What makes you think it's your body?" You see, the rampant sexual sin and rise of the debased mind (Rom 1:28) in our society today is, in fact, premised on the question of authority. Who has the authority here? My generation preached, "Question authority" (for which I apologize). We've gone beyond that, making it rather a question of who is in authority. So when "my candidate isn't elected" you might hear, "That's not my president" (and I offer that having heard it on both sides -- liberal and conservative). Women don't want to submit to any sort of male authority. Men don't want to submit to much of any authority at all. Christians -- self-professed -- are quickly aiming to dismiss the authority of Scripture and, ultimately, the authority of God. The highest authority is self.

And, look, if it is your body, you are the highest authority. So, is it?

Scripture seems to deny this. God claims, "The world and its fullness are mine." (Psa 50:12) Paul says, "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things." (Rom 11:36) To the Colossians he wrote, "By [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him.". (Col 1:16) The author of Hebrews says that all things exist for and by God (Heb 2:10). Paul calls Christ "the head of all rule and authority." (Col 2:10) Who doesn't recognize the title applied to Christ -- "King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14; Rev 19:16)? Abraham Kuyper said, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"

The Bible argues that all that exists belongs to the One who made it and the One for whom it was made. The question, then, is who has authority over your body? Because it appears that it's not your body. "Appears"? Scripture is explicit on that (see, for instance, 1 Cor 7:4). And, yet, we stand with fists clenched arguing "It's my body and I'll do what I want with it!" So we push the boundaries of sexual morality and reject the authority of God and His Word.

Well, of course, that's what you'd expect from the unbeliever (Rom 8:7; Heb 11:6). The question is not about them. It is about you, believer. Is that really the position you want to take?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Joy to the World

It's Christmas time. I'm going to do a Christmas carol for Sunday. Let's see what we can learn from a classical Christmas hymn.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.
Isaac Watts did not plan this as a Christmas hymn. He based in on Psalm 98: “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises” (v 4). “Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord” (v 6). But it works just fine for Christmas.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is the natural result of the recognition of God’s care for us (Psa. 98:1-3; 100). It is commanded repeatedly (Phil. 2:18; 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16). Joy to the world!

It is disconcerting to hear secular singers belting out this song because of phrases like this: “The Lord is come; let earth receive her King.” Even we who believe have difficulty calling Him Lord and King, but the song calls on us to “receive” Him. This is the same word used in both a positive and negative sense in John 1:9-13. Negatively, “His own did not receive Him” (v 11). Positively, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the sons of God” (v 12). Our normal term today for becoming a Christian is to “accept Christ”, but the biblical term, “receive Him”, carries a fuller connotation. When you “receive” a TV signal, it is processed and displayed. When you have a “reception” for someone, it is to honor him. We are to “receive” our King, to open ourselves to Him, to appropriate and display Him, to honor Him.

“Let every heart prepare Him room.” Luke records that when it came time to deliver Jesus, “there was no room for them” (Luke 2:7). Jesus moves only into places that are vacated for Him. For us to receive our King, we must prepare Him room in our hearts.

The last line of the first verse repeats the phrase “and heaven and nature sing.” We live in a world that has divorced science and religion, the natural from the supernatural. We have divided out God and His world, and classified things as secular or sacred. God doesn’t see it as such. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, His detractors told Him to silence His disciples. He replied, “I tell you if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 19:40). The language of Scripture includes nature in adoring God (for example, Isa. 55:12). All of nature and all of heaven sing for joy at the coming of the King.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

News Weakly - 12/9/17

It Figures
In the midst of a huge firestorm about sexual abuse with heavy attention on Hollywood, the film winning awards and favored to win the Academy Awards is a "gay love story" about a teenager who falls in love with his father's assistant. Ironic.

Religious Freedom in Canada
Canada's first Christian law school will plead its case before Canada's Supreme Court. What is at stake is not small. Trinity Western University in Vancouver has been trying to launch a law program for four years. They've been blocked by legal challenges because the school covenant bars sexual activity outside of traditional marriage, and that, opponents complain, discriminates against LGBT students. So far Canada has refused to accredit any future Trinity Western graduates as a result. The school claims that the value is in line with the school's Christian values and does not discriminate -- it applies to all genders, faiths, and sexual orientations.

Canadians are praying; so should all Christians.

The Dangers ... of Cycling?
I just thought it was an interesting article by a guy who promoted the idea about the damage done by the rush by many cities to promote bicycling. Succumbing to the law of unintended consequences, it turns out that bicycles today "consume more road space than they free up, they add to pollution as well as reducing it, they hurt neighbourhoods and business districts alike, and they have become a drain on the public purse." Huh! Who would have thought? Are we really sure we know what constitutes "harm"?

When Christ Comes ...
Jesus asked, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8) Looking at the state of the Church today, I can see the point of the question. However, looking at fertility rates in the world today, we might just ask, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find anyone at all?" Yeah, sure, overly dramatic. Still, we are not producing children at a replacement rate (2.1 births per woman). In 1964 the world was over five births per woman. Today, the world is below 2.5 live births per woman. In Europe the EU is was at 1.58 live births. The forecast in the U.S. for 2017 is 1.77. In 2009 we were hovering around the replacement rate. No more. Kids are out.

God designed marriage as the union of a man and a woman (Gen 2:24) (something both Australia and Austria failed to notice this week) for the purpose of mutual support (Gen 2:20) and procreation (Gen 1:28). We've jettisoned pretty much all of that. It doesn't look good for us.

Good for the GOP, not the Gander
"A group of Senate Democrats is demanding that an immigration compromise be included in any government funding bill, raising the prospects of a possible government shutdown and rankling members of their own party." Odd that when the GOP threatened the same sort of idea, it was "playing politics", but not when the Dems do it?

The Harm Principle
We're pretty sure that "harm" is the necessary component to define morality, and yet ...

... on top of that "damage of cycling" story we have science telling us that birth control pills increase breast cancer risk. Tell me again how we can be confident that we, not God, can properly define morality.

According to the Law
So, back in 1995 the Congress passed a law with overwhelming approval that required moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. It was supposed to be accomplished by June of 1999. President Clinton didn't do it. Now President Trump plans to do it. ANd he's the bad guy. Ironically, people are saying that Trump will destroy the "peace process." They -- from the American media to the angry Palestinians and the rest -- are apparently unaware that this conflict has been going on for something like 4,000 years since Abraham fathered Ishmael and Isaac. There is no peace process here.

Friday, December 08, 2017

How can these things be?

Sure, Mary asked the question when the angel told her she would be pregnant, but that's not the question here. Since the collapse of biblical marriage and sexual morality, it appears that Christians have lost their minds. (Okay, sure, I'm using the word, "Christian", generously.)

I came across this article by "Hippie Heretic" Chuck McKnight who is in a polyamorous relationship. Oh, not clear on what that is? He defines it as "consensually non-monogamous relationships [where] there is an open agreement that one, both, or all individuals involved in a romantic relationship may also have other sexual and/or romantic partners." He's delighted at the rise in conversations about LGBT issues and people "figuring out what it means to be queer and Christian", but bemoans the fact that his group is left out.
But quietly, there are the thousands of faithful Christians who practice polyamory—living lives of giftedness, dignity, and worth, but receiving next-to-no spiritual support.
Because, you see, it's no longer just "marriage" or biblical sexuality that is not understood by self-professed believers. It is the rejection of the clear statements on the subject from God in His Word and the complete collapse of the understanding of the concept of the "faithful Christian". Hint: You can't classify yourself as "faithful" or "Christian" when you are not faithful or Christian (James 2:17-19).

I don't understand why so many so-called brethren (1 Cor 5:11) engage in clear violations of God's Word and then complain that they're not getting help from God or His people ... to continue in their violations of God's Word. I suppose it's what is called the "debased mind" (Rom 1:28). Don't worry, you who call yourself believers while making a practice of sin (1 John 3:9); I'm here for you. I call it "prayer".

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Your Aim Will Help

This last Thanksgiving week my siblings and I along with our spouses, our parents, and some of the grandkids got together to discuss our tradition of a family reunion ... every Thanksgiving. You see, it occurred to us that we weren't sure of the question of why we got together. Because, if we don't know why, we likely won't accomplish "why".

Turns out that this is a very common thing -- the "why". Everything has a purpose. Maybe it's as simple as "filling that void in my stomach" or "because it's cool", but everything has a purpose. Conversely, it's a very common thing, I think, that we fail to ask "why". We assume we know what we're doing and why we're doing it, but if we haven't asked, it's likely we won't actually accomplish the mission.

So, let's look at a timely example. It's Christmas time. Have you finished your shopping? Have you asked yourself why you're doing it? I'd bet there are a lot of reasons we do it. Originally it came from the gifts of Christmas themselves. We know that the magi gave gifts to the infant Jesus. More importantly, we know that God gave us His Son at the Incarnation. So the original intent was to remind us of the gifts. But, let's be honest, that's not the common reason today. At our best, it's because we like to give good things to those we love. But even that isn't always the case. Some give in order to earn favor. The kids will like you for it. The family will appreciate it. Your friends will thank you. Some give because it's expected. Less "They'll be grateful", the thought is more, "They won't like you if you don't." There are even devious reasons. "If I give them a gift, they will owe me." You see, there are lots of "whys" for that question. But if you don't know why you're doing it, you won't know if you met your goal. In fact, you may not realize it if your aim was a poor one. "So they'll be grateful", for instance, is not a good reason.

Just an example to go along with the time of year. Think about all the other things we do for reasons we don't consider. Why go to church? To "get fed"? Or to feed? Because Scripture calls us all to be ministers (e.g., 1 Cor 12:1-27) and, yet, they tell me that 80% of the work and giving at church comes from 20% of the people. Are you among the 80% that go to get and not to give? What's your purpose? Why are you doing the job you do? Some people do it to "get ahead". Very rarely does anyone work to just feed their family. So while we tell ourselves we're working hard to give them the best, we miss the point and don't give them ourselves. Because we didn't ask "why". Or simpler things like "Why are you wearing that?" Do we dress to impress? Is that a good reason? Is there a better one?

Jesus said, "The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man." (Matt 15:18-20) Our primary problem, then, is what's in the heart. That's the "why" of what we do. Clearly we can fail to do good because we have bad hearts. We can also do "good things" for wrong reasons and lose the benefit. "Why" is an important question because it reveals the heart, and a faulty heart is our biggest problem.

God has work for us to do. In order to do it, we need to know why. The easy answer -- "to the glory of God" -- is a good place to start. Skipping that is an automatic step in the wrong direction. And operating blindly without a genuine aim is simply a poor way to accomplish our primary task -- glorifying God. Think about it.
__________
Helpful Hint: If your "why" is something that requires someone else to accomplish, count on having your task frustrated. If the reason you are doing something, whether as noble as "to make someone happy" or as understandable as "to make someone love me" or everything in between, if it relies on someone else, there is a good chance it won't happen. If you're buying gifts at Christmas, for instance, in hopes that they will be grateful, you're setting yourself up for a disappointment.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Lukewarm and Lovin' It

Lukewarm. No, it's not a reference to someone named Luke. It comes from a Middle English word -- "leuk" or "lewk" -- meaning "tepid". Okay, so there we have it. The term answers the question, "How warm is it?" "Tepid." Of course, it used to primarily refer to food or liquid, but it wasn't long before it was expanded to include the unenthusiastic person. "How hot are you on this subject?" "Eh ... tepid."

I don't think anyone thinks it's a good thing. I know Jesus doesn't. He told the church at Laodicea,
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. (Rev 3:15-16)
And, no, "spit you out of My mouth" isn't a good thing. In fact, the word there is literally "vomit".

So, why does it seem like the majority of Christians are quite happy with lukewarm?

Come on. Let's be honest. How many of us are "on fire" for Christ? Isn't it true that we tend to more closely fit the lukewarm description of Laodicea than anything described as "hot"?
For you say, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing," not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Rev 3:17-18)
Look, we come from a comfortable society. We have a lot. We are largely prosperous. For the most part, we're doing fine. Just like Laodicea. Which means, if we're a lot like them, we don't recognize the reality of our wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked condition. Satiated with worldly comfort, we're fine ... but we're not. Our standard of measurement is off.

It's actually a dangerous place to be. In fact, Jesus would prefer "cold" to lukewarm (Rev 3:15). But we're fine, thanks. We're happy with lukewarm.

It's a simple instruction, really.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Rev 3:19)
Be zealous. Repent. He'll do the rest. Oh, it won't be pleasant. He reproves and disciplines. But He does it out of love. We need to pursue Him for the genuine "gold", "white garments", and "salve", because what we have is mostly counterfeit. But if we're actually among His own, we should be happy to embrace the pain, should be diligent to repent, should be eager to be zealous.

Lukewarm and lovin' it? It describes most of us at one time or another, but it's a dangerous place to be. Be zealous and repent.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

How Do You Know?

If you've never heard the question, then you have been amazingly silent about your faith and you don't talk to yourself about your faith, because most everyone who believes in God has been asked and has asked themselves, "How do you know?" How do you know there is a God? How do you know if you have a relationship with Him? How do you know that what you see in the Bible is really in the Bible? How do you know??!!

Starting with the Bible's evaluation of human beings, we would each have to acknowledge that we must start with the acknowledgment that we might be wrong. Maybe we're deceived. Maybe we're blinded. These things are claimed in Scripture (Jer 17:9; 2 Cor 4:4). Further, the Bible itself urges us to test ourselves (2 Cor 13:5). So that shouldn't give you a starting point of confidence, but question. Is there, then, any reason to think that we might have any reason for confidence about our faith, our salvation, our understanding of Scripture?

Now, of course, at this point it becomes tricky. How do you know what? That you're a Christian? Good question! Much is written in Scripture on that very question. All of John's first epistle was written "so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13) Important question, biblically. That the Bible is God's Word? Different question. That your understanding of God's Word is accurate? Another different question. Let's take the first one first, because the rest don't count if that question isn't answered.

We know that we are saved by grace through faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9). In fact, Christianity is the only faith that offers that. But we also know -- Jesus Himself said so -- that many (He used that very word) will claim to know Him that do not (Matt 7:21-23), so it is possible to think you're saved but not be. You can see, then, that this question -- how can I know if I'm saved? -- is critical. Fortunately we aren't left to our own devices. The Bible offers several helpful statements. For instance,
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)
So, evaluating yourself, are you comfortable with sin? Do you defend it? Do you make it your practice? Or are you offended by it? Do you hate it and, even though you certainly fall into it, you try to run from it? Those answers will help.

Another one came up once in a conversation I had explaining that God painfully disciplines His own (Heb 12:5-11). "He's never done that to me," the other said to me. Well, okay, then, if that's true, here's what the text says:
But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Heb 12:8)
If you have never experienced the painful discipline God provides, "you are illegitimate children and not sons." Not my evaluation. It's Scripture.

James says, without equivocation, faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Is your faith reflected in your life? That is something to consider.

John gives a helpful hint in terms of "location".
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)
"They went out from us" is a reference to those who are anti-Christ, but note that they come from us. They don't start "outside". On the other hand, you can tell easily that "they were not really of us" if they "leave" -- go out from us. I put "leave" and "outside" in quotes because I think it's obvious that John isn't talking about geographic location. They exit orthodoxy. They depart from the faith. The clear teachings of Scripture are "here", and they go "there". John says that happens "so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." Have you departed from the historic, biblical faith? There's a good reason, then, to question your spiritual condition. The Bible itself, then, offers ways to carefully determine if you are in Christ.

Is the Bible God's Word? There are lots of good sources for arguments for the Bible as the Word of God. Go there.

So the question I get too often is that third one. They seem to think that they can be absolutely certain that I'm wrong because they're absolutely certain you can't be absolutely certain. I know ... confusing to me, too. But, seriously, is there any way that anyone can have any confidence that they are handling God's Word rightly? And the question isn't necessarily only from skeptics and the misguided. The simple truth is that many godly, serious-minded, Bible-believing Christians disagree. So, is there any way that anyone can have any confidence? Well, let me first say that I think that a healthy dose of self-skepticism is wise. On the other hand, a life of doubt isn't healthy (James 1:6-8). Those who argue against confident belief argue against God's Word. Still, since many are mistaken and everyone one of us has been mistaken, how can we gain a modicum of confidence on this question?

I believe it is possible. I believe it first because of those references telling us to be sure. And I believe it because of the nature of God. Jesus said He would send the Spirit to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). Since I believe Jesus to be reliable, I believe He (the Spirit) has done just that. So, I rely on the Spirit. Oh, no, not some mystical "I have a leading of the Spirit that this is what it means." I believe that He has led His own into the truth. So I examine the Word. I look at the words, the content, the context. I compare Scripture with Scripture (since I am confident that it is God's Word and, therefore, reliable). I use logic and reason and listen to the arguments. And, if what I see is what has been seen throughout Church history, I have a pretty high level of confidence that what I see is right. That would obviously mean that I have an equally high confidence that what others see there is wrong. Mind you, that level of confidence will vary. I can say with absolute confidence that Christ was born of a virgin, lived as a sinless man, was crucified, and rose again. No doubt. Do I have equal confidence regarding, say, end times? Not at all. So I'm open to being persuaded to something different. (Believe me, I have been ... a lot.) And, to tell the truth, there is a large body of doctrine -- understanding of Scripture -- that is standard, agreed upon, generally accepted. (As an example, at no time in history has anyone understood any different than that God's Word clearly calls homosexual behavior sin. Those who argue that it never meant that do so against all the texts, all the contexts, and all of Church history and, therefore, against the Spirit.) We differ in nuances, mostly. ("We" being Christians, as opposed to the larger body of folk who simply claim to be.) Christians generally agree on the fundamentals.

"You can't have any confidence in what you believe." That's what they tell me. I disagree. I believe what I see in the Bible. When what I believe aligns with the bulk of Church history, I can be pretty confident I'm in the right place. When I align with something new, I might very likely be in the wrong place. Or, let me put this another way. I am confident that what I believe is true because I am confident that God is reliable in His Word and the Spirit has been reliable in leading His own into all truth. It's not my ability, then; it's Him. I don't have the arrogance required to say, "I've found it! You guys were all wrong all these years! The Spirit just couldn't get through until I came along!" My confidence isn't in my ability; it's in the One who has called me and saved me. I take Him at His Word. Not my experience, my world's opinion, science's "better ideas", or "new and improved theology". That's how I know.

Monday, December 04, 2017

All or Nothing

Biblical Christians consider themselves "people of the book", so to speak. We aim to be serious about Scripture. The Bible is our sole authority on matters of faith and practice. It is God's Word. And we're serious about that. So we read it for all it's worth. We try to understand and try to conform our lives and minds to what God has to say.

Why is it, then, that we seem to be so blind to some of the obvious things?

When I was young, I was told, "Never use 'never' and always avoid 'always'." (If you didn't smile at that, you missed the joke.) Those extreme terms like "never", "always", "all", "none", "nothing", "everything", and the like are difficult to maintain. You can disprove "never" by finding just one. So they should be used sparingly and carefully. And, yet, we find these kinds of statements littered throughout the Bible. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) "There is no one who does good, not even one." (Psa 14:3; Rom 3:12). "Apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) "No one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." (John 6:65) Absolute statements, some even from the lips of our Savior.

In that last reference I highlighted the word "can" because along with the universal "no one" He addressed ability, or, in this case, inability, making a statement about the universal inability of human beings to come to Christ. According to Jesus there is a baseline truth about human beings -- "No one has the ability to come to Me" -- followed by the only available hope for that to change. He was not vague, evasive, or unclear, and, yet, we Christians like to be vague, evasive, or downright unbelieving about what He said. We are quite certain that, regardless of His "no one" let alone His "can come", everyone has the innate ability to do just that -- come to Him.

Why do we do that? Why do we ignore or modify the clear statements of Scripture like that? I'm not talking about skeptics or "the Left"; I'm talking about genuine, unquestionable Christians who are otherwise quite serious about taking God at His Word. Why, when we come to things like that, do we dodge and evade the clear statements?

David was not unclear when he made the claim that there is none who does good (Psa 14:3). He even emphasized it -- "no, not one." Paul repeated it (Rom 3:12). In fact, both were quite sure there was "none who seek for God" (Rom 3:11; Psa 14:2). And, yet, we're all quite sure that there are lots who seek for God and who do good. We don't relegate it to hyperbole. "Oh, he didn't mean literally 'not one'. He just meant that doing good is extremely rare." That would be hyperbole. No, we understand it to mean, "Lots of people do good, including believers, unbelievers, and anyone else you might imagine." We reinterpret Scripture from our faulty perceptions (Jer 17:9) of our experience. Why do we do that?

Paul wasn't vague when he wrote, "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Cor 2:14) Here, too, he addresses a universal inability. That is, "All natural human beings lack the ability to understand the things of the Spirit of God." But we're absolutely certain that the exact reverse is true -- all human beings have the ability to understand the things of the Spirit of God. Why do we do that?

John wasn't speaking in strange terms when he claimed, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9) Now, you might say he was vague about "practicing sin". "The King James says, 'Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.' See? Vague." But stepping back from "sin" or "sinning continuously", clearly there are universal absolutes in this text. "No one" and "cannot" are included in here. And, yet, almost no one believes that. John is clearly making an absolute statement about the ability of the one born of God to continue to do something in regard to sin. We're all mostly convinced that he meant ... nothing at all. Why do we do that?

Check yourself sometime. See what you do when you run across these universal statements. There are reasons not to take some universally. For instance, does "the world" (a universal term) refer to every single person on the planet or can it have variations in meaning? As it turns out, it may mean the physical world (e.g., John 1:9), the world of humans (e.g., Luke 2:1), the moral world (e.g., John 7:7; John 15:18-19), the world in terms of time (present or future) (e.g., John 12:31; 2 Cor 4:4). So know your "world" before applying a singular meaning to the term. That is, we do need to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). But let's not jettison the obvious because it isn't what we're used to, isn't what we like, isn't what we're comfortable with. Let's take God at His Word, realizing that it won't always be warm and fuzzy to do so, but recognizing that the truth will set us free (John 8:32).

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Who Are You Going to Trust?

I have often offered Jeremiah 17:9 as a warning note about the state of natural man.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)
The truth is most people and even most Christians don't buy that. There are some sick and deceived people but not all. God, apparently, disagrees.

In fact if you examined who was speaking in that verse, you would find it is not Jeremiah; it is God Himself. And the verse is out of the middle of some pretty tough things from the very mouth of God. First, He says,
"Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land." (Jer 17:5-6)
Note the quotes. It's God speaking. This is not the human version, not someone speaking for God. This is God. "Cursed is the man who trusts in man." Pretty strong language.

"Cursed" refers to those upon whom God has turned His back (Num 6:24-26). It's a bad thing -- no grace, no peace, no hope. It is beyond "unhappy". A shrub in the desert. He "shall not see any good come." Not good at all.

God follows the curse up with a blessing. Understand, here, that "blessed" is the opposite of "cursed" and includes God's grace, peace, and love.
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." (Jer 17:7-8)
So, we have contrasted here "the man who trusts in man" (cursed) and "the man who trusts in the Lord" (blessed). Being blessed by God -- His face shining on you -- is all good. It is life and joy and His care for you. It is beyond "happy". Like a tree that "does not cease to bear fruit".

That brings us to God's explanation about why we shouldn't trust in man: "The heart is deceitful." That makes it clear why trusting in man is so foolish and useless.

So the question is for you and me. Do we trust in man or trust in God? Are we expecting help from politicians and presidents or are we trusting in God? Are we anticipating that people will be what we need them to be for us or are we trusting in God? Are we counting on doctors for healing or are we trusting in God? Are we placing our trust in family and spouses, neighbors and bosses and coworkers, and, yes, even fellow church folk to do what is right for us, or are we trusting in God? Based on the curse and the blessing, I would say that the wrong answer here could be really, really bad. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure most of us spend too much time living on the wrong answer. An easy test for which it is would be to ask yourself what your emotional response is when the people you know let you down. If it is "Thank God my trust is in Him," you may be in good shape. If it is anger or dismay, you may be trusting in man. Maybe we all need to work at adjusting where we place our trust.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

News Weakly - 12/2/17

Good News!
Well, this is groundbreaking good news. "New archaeological tests have confirmed that the site many Christians believe to be the tomb of Jesus Christ dates back 1,700 years to A.D. 325, the same era when the Romans first identified the place as holy." "'Scientists and archaeologists are very excited about this because, what it does is, it corroborates our historical accounts,' said National Geographic archaeology writer Kristin Rome."

Okay, good news to National Geographic, I suppose. We don't much care. 1) The scientific agreement with a 1,700 year old declaration that this was the site of Jesus's tomb doesn't confirm that this was Jesus's tomb. 2) This site is irrelevant. On one hand, Jesus rose from the dead closer to 2,000 years ago; that means this location is 325 years out of date. On the other hand, He rose from the dead; where He was buried doesn't matter. 3) We don't need science to confirm Jesus died and rose again. But it is good news that He died and rose again!

Parenting Fail
A Virginia mother is facing felony charges because she was trying to be a good parent. Her elementary-school daughter was being bullied and the school refused to do anything, so she sent a recorder in her daughter's backpack to record what happened in a day. The school found it and called the police, charging her with felony "Interception, disclosure, etc., of wire, electronic or oral communications unlawful" violations.

Parents, you have been warned.

In Character
San Francisco was one of many cities that decided to intentionally jettison federal immigration law and released Garcia Zarate, a repeat offender (deported 5 times), who went out and killed Kate Steinle. The defense said it was a mistake, an error. He found a gun, stumbled, and accidentally shot and killed Steinle while she walked with her father on the pier. True to form, the jury acquitted Zarate of murder and involuntary manslaughter.

Now, note, the immigration status of Zarate is not the question. Defense attorney The question before the jury is "Did he do it?" The defense (and Zarate) claims he did accidentally and unintentionally shoot and kill Steinle. According to the dictionary, manslaughter is not murder, but the unintentional killing of another person. If there is a lack of intent, it is further designated involuntary manslaughter. Taking his story at face value, Zarate is not guilty of murder, but is guilty of the definition of involuntary manslaughter. But, then, San Francisco has already demonstrated that the laws aren't really that important. Defense attorney Francisco Ugarte said, "I believe today is a vindication for the rights of immigrants." If that's what we've seen, then immigrants have rights citizens don't -- to admit to breaking the laws and go free.

SCOTUS Will Hear the Case
So, it looks like Jack Phillips' case will make it to the Supreme Court. Jack is the Christian baker who refused to make a cake that violated his religious beliefs. The media would like to tell you that he "spurned a gay couple", but this only works if you're not interested in facts. He made cakes for gays before but wouldn't do it for a wedding cake. He also refused to make a Halloween cake and other cakes from companies with messages that conflicted with his beliefs. This is not about "gay rights", no matter what the media tells you. It's about First Amendment rights and religious freedom. But they won't stop telling you it's not; count on it.

Duh!
No matter how you look at it, apparently the White House has pests. From one view, that would be the mice, cockroaches, and ants. Of course, the other view would say it's the occupants.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Lessons Learned

It started with Weinstein, but the snowball has gathered size and speed and appears to be unending. The problem of sexual harassment is, well, huge. Charlie Rose went down quickly. Garrison Keillor defended Rose and soon went down himself. Jeremy Piven's Wisdom of the Crowd was canceled after multiple accusations. Kevin Spacey has been accused by at least 14 men and was fired from House of Cards and All the Money in the World. Comedian Louis C.K. admitted to sexual impropriety and his I Love You, Daddy was shelved. Amazon Studios Head, Roy Price, stepped down days after a producer accused him of sexual harassment. Matt Lauer is the latest, losing his job on the basis of one accusation and facing the possibility of losing the 16,000 acre farm he purchased in New Zealand over it. And then there's the huge story with over 180 accusations of sexual impropriety at Massage Envy.

There is a list of folk from the news and publishing world such as NBC News, the New Republic, NPR news, Rolling Stone magazine, Billboard magazine who have been accused and are suffering the consequences.

Politicians like Roy Moore, former president George JW Bush, Democrat John Conyers, Senator Al Franken, California lawmaker Raul Bocanegra, two Minnesota lawmakers, and more are under fire and going down quickly for the same thing.

The lists and the impact seem to expand every day.

So, what have we learned? Well, sexual abuse is prevalent and horrible, sure, but what else? 1) Clearly most (if not, according to some, all) men are sexual abusers or at least potential abusers. 2) Sexual abuse appears to be solely a male thing. 3) Sexual proclivities are sacrosanct, but sexual harassment is the sin of the day. It overrides everything. While some have admitted to the accusations, those who have not have been tried and convicted by the court of public opinion and found guilty without anything more than the accusation. "Innocent until proven guilty" has no bearing in this case. The primary judge and jury appears to be Twitter these days. 4) All this has made Pence look like a genius when he denied such a possibility with his refusal to meet with women alone without his wife being present. Of course, the media ridiculed him on that, but he's looking pretty brilliant at this point.

In the end I wonder if we've learned anything at all.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Identity

The big question these days seems to be identity. "Am I gay or straight?" "Am I a male or a female?" "Am I the job I do or am I more?" "Am I like my parents or am I something else?" We're always trying to "find myself." "I don't even know who I am anymore!" So we have sexual identity and gender identity and work identity and family identity and on and on. What's right? What's true? How will we know and how will we know when we do find ourselves if it's the right self? So very confusing.

How you determine your identity is a direct result of how you view the world -- your worldview. If you're a materialist, we're a biochemical bag and "Who am I?" is a mostly pointless question. You are either nothing of consequence, really, or you are anything at all you convince yourself you are. Either way, it doesn't really matter. Maybe you are looking for your identity in your emotions. "What makes me feel right?" That's sure to be vague and fleeting, since emotions are vague and fleeting. If you take a Christian worldview, you're going to have to look elsewhere. Not in nature and not in feelings. If yours is a Christian worldview, you must draw your true identity from the One who made you.

What do we know? We know that part of our identity is found in the fact that we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26; Gen 9:6). That gives every human being God-designated worth. We know that God created us male and female (Gen 1:27); our gender identity is not in question. We know that believers are adopted into the family of God (John 1:12; Rom 8:15), providing a more sure and eternal family identity. We know that the Spirit gives gifts to every believer -- no exceptions (1 Cor 12:4-7). Each of us has a God-given role in the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13-27). We know that we are identified in Christ as righteous (2 Cor 5:21). That's just for starters.

You might struggle with identity. I would argue that it is a lie from Satan. The best place to find your identity is in the eyes of the Maker. His Word is not unclear. His intentions are not vague. His goodness is not in question. His accuracy is perfect. And the identity that God has created for each of us really is a good identity.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Love and Hate

When a Christian says, "The Bible says that homosexual behavior is a sin," it's hate, they tell us. They counter with something like, "Why is love wrong?" And we have this odd dichotomy where it appears that we are saying that the Bible is says love is a sin. So, where did we go wrong?

Let me start by answering the second question. "What's wrong with a man loving a man?" My answer? Nothing; nothing at all. Men should love men. I can't even fathom why someone would think it's wrong or someone would think that someone would think it's wrong. As a Christian, we are commanded to love the brethren, and while that's actually including the "sistren" (Is there no term for a group of sisters?), clearly Christian men are called by God to love men.

I would hope, by that answer, that you might already have a glimmer of an idea about the problem, then. You see, what we have here is a failure to communicate. Because just as I do not oppose men loving men or women loving women and, in fact, I'm strongly in favor of that, I do not hate those who commit sins. How could I? I'm one of them. And, yet, if I call out a sin, it's hate? Not rational.

When the anti-biblical view asks, "What's wrong with a man loving a man?", they're not asking about love. They're asking about sex. And when they say that it's hate to call it sin, they're not talking about hate. They're talking about a failure to embrace their desires ... for sex as they want it. The problem for them, of course, is that they aren't consistent in this position where calling something bad is hate because they call the biblical view bad and it's not hate, right?

Look, I'm not going to change their minds here. They've opted for their redefinition of both love and hate and their rejection of God, His values, and His views. It's not like it's hard to see. I'm not even sure they'd deny it. I'm talking to you who are faced with this strange dichotomy of being against sin and being called a hater when you're just standing with God. Think clearly. Love is not sex. Hate is not a refusal to embrace the sin of others. Scripture calls us to love and not to hate. But when God's Word says that bad things will result for those who don't repent of their sin, it is hate to ignore that and it is love to care enough to point out the error and offer them the solution of God's Son. Don't let them confuse you with the misuse of your own terms.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

You keep using that word

There are lots of movie quotes out there, but perhaps the most quoted movie of all time is The Princess Bride. And, of course, my favorite quote from that movie is Inigo Montoya's line, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." It's my favorite because it seems to be everywhere around us these days. "Love", "marriage", "gender", "Christian", and on and on. We all use these words but they don't seem to be used these days as they actually mean.

Today's word is "egalitarianism". Truth be told, I am an egalitarian. But that's because I'm referring to the definition of egalitarianism.
Egalitarianism - the doctrine that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status
How can you disagree with that? I mean, sure, some lunatics do. Racists, sexists, anti-Christians, that sort of thing, but any right thinking Christian ought to agree that all people are of equal value. It's a given. All humans are made in the image of God, so all people have God-given worth. We don't get to assign worth on race, sex, age, or the like. That's egalitarianism. I'm an egalitarian.

So how did it become such a divisive concept in Christianity? Of all places?! (Hint: Think Inigo Montoya.) Turns out that someone decided to keep using that word in a way that it wasn't defined. They took "equal worth" to the next (false) step and required "equality" in an absolute sense. No differences. For instance, no hierarchy (as opposed to 1 Cor 11:3, for instance), no differences in marriage roles (as opposed to Eph 5:22-33, for instance), no differences in roles in church (as opposed to, say, 1 Cor 12:4-27 or 1 Tim 2:12-14). Anyone can do anything and it is "unequal" to say otherwise. For instance, if someone submits to someone else, the one who submits is obviously the lesser (as opposed to, as the clearest example, Christ who submitted to the Father -- John 14:28 -- and even to His disciples -- Luke 22:27). So while the Bible supports differences in roles and authority and such, the Christian egalitarian opposes such differences.

To be fair, the primary argument here is not general; it is specific. It is in the arena of male vs female. Husbands are not head over their wives. Wives need not submit to their husbands. Women can do any role in the church that they want. A male/female thing. So where do they get this argument? Straight from the Bible, of course.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)
(Isn't it ironic? As many times as people complain that I take Scripture too literally, they make this their "You have to take this literally!" argument.)

So there it is in black and white. "All are one in Christ Jesus." And on one point I agree -- we need to take this as written. So what is Paul saying here?

Paul offered a list of terms by which the people of his day applied worth. Jew? To the Jew, they're the only valued human being. Greek? Not at all. Slave? Not much worth. Free? Valued. Male? Valued. Female? Not so much. Paul then is carefully arguing precisely the egalitarian view -- in Christ all are of equal value. The Greek is the same value as the Jew, slave the same value as the free, the female the same value as the male. These distinctions do not change the value of those who are in Christ. What this text does not do is erase differences. Why? Well, I've offered multiple reasons from Scripture. The Bible does suggest an authority hierarchy, a marital hierarchy of responsibility, a distinction in roles in the Body. We can discuss what those distinctions are, but we cannot eliminate them on the basis that Paul wrote that there are no distinctions for those in Christ. That would simply be insanity, Paul contradicting Paul. So Paul is saying there is no distinction in Christ in terms of worth -- standard egalitarianism -- not there is no distinction at all -- the new "egalitarianism".

They keep using that word. I'm quite sure it doesn't mean what they think it means. I'm absolutely sure that, taking the Bible at its word, God's Word doesn't agree. It didn't end well for Vizzini; I fear it won't end well for the modern egalitarians.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Wanderer

Scripture talks about different kinds of people in the "Christian" spectrum. There is the blatant "false teacher", about whom John says, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) Christian in appearance, at least at first ("from us"), but not actually Christian and not remaining in the flock. There is what the New American Standard refers to as "the factious man", or the King James refers to as "the heretic", or what the ESV calls "a person who stirs up division" (Titus 3:10). This one is in our midst, obviously, but not "getting along". He doesn't "play well with other children." He's a trouble-maker. Of this one Paul says, "After warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned." (Titus 3:10-11) There is the blatant sinner. Paul says on this one, "I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler -- not even to eat with such a one." (1 Cor 5:11) The unrepentant sinner, marked by immorality without any apparent qualms. The author of Hebrews refers to another one called "apostate." This one has had all the right input, all the right experiences, all the right appearance, and has jettisoned it all. Of this one the author of Hebrews says, "It is impossible ... to restore them again to repentance." (Heb 6:4-6) There are, then, people who are in the realm of Christianity but demonstrate in various ways that they are not Christian who Scripture says should be let go, rejected, avoided. You might think that's harsh, but your issue would be with Scripture because it's in there.

There is, however, another category. Paul refers to a brother "caught in a transgression" who becomes the responsibility of other believers to restore in a spirit of gentleness (Gal 6:1). James speaks of a similar concept. The NASB says they "stray from the truth", but the ESV says this:
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
Interesting group. They "wander from the truth". These aren't the false teachers, the divisive types, the unrepentant "so-called brother", or the apostate. No, these sin, sure, but they are not lost causes. They aren't unrepentant. They aren't crusading for the lie. They're straying. They're wandering.

You know these types, I'm sure. They see a problem, like "Why aren't there many people in our church?", and they pursue it ... down the wrong path. Better marketing, more worldly methods, catchier programs, and they find themselves pursuing "more people" on their own without regard for God. They wandered. Unchecked, they end up in some really bad places like Robert Schuller's "positive thinking" Christianity where "sin" is defined as "feeling bad about yourself" and redemption is in a positive self-image. Yeah, it brings in more people, but without the Gospel behind it. I'm sure the Joel Osteen followers might come to mind in the same way. You see, it wasn't malice or being spiritually dead or the like. They wandered. They strayed.

God's Word gives guidance on how to deal with these people. For the malicious types, the answer is distance. Not so for the wanderer. The wanderer needs restoring. The one who strays needs to be brought back to the truth.

How do you know what you're dealing with? Sometimes it's not clear. But it's not too hard to find out. If the primary difference is "unrepentant" and "repentant", you just have to ask, right? If the person who stirs up dissension is warned twice and continues, you know what he is. Not a wanderer. If the false teacher leaves rather than being restored, you know what he is. If the blatant sinner is confronted with his sin and refuses to repent (Matt 18:15-20), you have your answer.

The hard question, then, is not what kind they are. Just do what you're commanded. Seek to restore, with a close eye on yourself, in the process Christ commanded. When it works out, it's a great thing. When it doesn't, you have your marching orders: Don't even eat with such a one. The hard question, then, is whether you will obey. (You and I.) But I suppose if we, knowing what God's Word says, refuse, we know what we are, right?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Disqualified

In Paul's epistle to the churches of Galatia he has a tough message to deliver. In order to do this, he starts out strongly.
Paul, an apostle -- not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead ... (Gal 1:1)
In other words, "I am God's messenger and I was chosen by God to be that messenger, not some mere mortal."

And what is that tough message? There is no other gospel. "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:6-9) No other gospel. Not works. Not universalism. Not "love and flowers". Not any other gospel than a faith in Christ that produces a changed life.

He goes on to say, "You think this is easy?" Okay, not quite. What he actually says is,
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal 1:10)
It is that last statement that really struck me. It struck me because isn't that where we live? Do we not aim to please others?

It is in our nature to seek to please others. Oh, sure, that's generally self-centered. That is, practical altruism is predicated on the idea that "the best thing I can do for myself is to help others." That way they'll like me and want to be nice to me and ... all those good things. Genuine altruism -- looking out for the welfare of others without regard for my own benefit -- is practically nonexistent. Even if it's "Doing good for others just makes me feel better about myself," it's still about self in the end. Still, the best of us still seek to please others. It's only the sociopath that has no interest in pleasing others. Paul says, "If it is my aim to please others, I am not qualified to be a servant of Christ."

Why is that? Well, it should be readily apparent. If I am to be a servant of ____ -- whatever that may be -- my primary concern would be to please ____ -- whatever that may be. Obviously. If I am a servant of self, I would seek to please self. If I am to be a servant of men, I would with so please men. If I am to be a servant of Christ, I would wish to please Christ. Not hard to figure out. If it is not the the goal of a servant of Christ to please Christ, then that is not a qualified servant of Christ.

And, yet, this is often typical among Christians. Christians, mind you; people with the name of Christ attached to them. We are so concerned about pleasing those around us that we are willing to jettison the things that please our Lord and Savior. It is true on a personal level. It is true on a corporate level. Churches have largely shifted their structures -- their appearance and their processes, their programs and even their message -- to please people. When they go to big screen projection and updated lighting and music and more contemporary programs like "book studies" rather than Bible studies, it is not generally with the primary aim to please Christ. He is not the main goal. They figure that the goal is to please people, ostensibly so they will come in and hear the message. It is not generally with the primary question, "What would please Christ?" And when we do those things, we disqualify ourselves as servants of Christ.

We need to be careful. The songs we sing, the messages we bring, and the lives that we live need to be aimed first at pleasing our Master. Anything else disqualifies us. That's definitely a bad thing (1 Cor 9:27; 2 Tim 3:8).

Saturday, November 25, 2017

News Weakly - 11/25/17

Of Course
Last year Starbucks drew the ire of Christians because they seemed to be be eager to celebrate Christmas without, you know, Christmas. This year, it's a new twist. Apparently they want to celebrate Christmas with an LGBT message. Way to go, Starbucks. To all the Christians out there who are getting ready to leap onto the boycott wagon, relax. You can't expect a non-Christian corporation to be Christian. Be real.

Assault Weapons
Another case of deaths by assault weapons. One border patrol agent was killed and his partner was injured by rocks thrown by undocumented aliens (who are not criminals or illegal, they tell us). Of course, no one used the term "assault weapons", but surely if someone uses rocks to kill someone that would qualify as a weapon for assault, right?

People who cross the border illegally are criminals by definition. People who kill others are criminals by definition. We should honor those who risk their lives to keep our country safe, especially those who die to do it, like Agent Rogelio Martinez.

A Strange "Abrahamic Religion"
Convicted killer Cecil Koger is suing Ohio for cutting his dreadlocks. It is a violation of his constitutional rights. Because, you see, he's Rastafarian and Rastafarianism requires dreadlocks. The funny thing is they term Rastafarianism (which came about in the 1930's) as an "Abrahamic religion" because, as everyone knows, Abraham also had to wear dreadlocks.

I'm guessing that he'll win his "right to the free exercise of religion" suit even though Christians can't. Go figure.

Somebody's Gonna Pay
What happened in Las Vegas that awful October 1st night was a crime and a tragedy. Fifty-eight people dead and 546 injured. But justice was served when the killer killed himself. Or not. Now, apparently, somebody's going to pay. A lawsuit "on behalf of 450 people injured or present" -- because being present at something like that is enough to require payment -- is aimed at the deep pockets of the MGM Resorts and Mandalay Corporation for failing to anticipate and eliminate the threat. Apparently it is the job of the hotel to closely monitor guest activities. We'll see how that goes ... for the lawyers, the plaintiffs, the hotel industry in Vegas and everywhere else, and the guests who find themselves being closely monitored.

Read it on the Internet
Breaking news: Mike Pence admits to an addiction to marital faithfulness. Calls for impeachment sure to follow.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Why?

In the 5th chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans he says,
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Rom 5:1-2)
Now that's interesting, isn't it? We get the "justified by faith." We get the "peace with God." We get the "exult in hope." But did we miss the point of the hope? Paul here says that the hope in which we exult is the hope of the glory of God.

Step back a moment to a prior passage. You remember that all have sinned, but do you remember the "and"? "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) The problem, you see, isn't merely sin. Oh, that's big enough, but the real problem is that sin falls short of the glory of God. The problem, then, is that God's glory is diminished. That's why sin is such a big problem. Sin isn't just "bad things"; it's an assault on the glory of the Most High. It's the same problem we see at the outset of the epistle.
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom 1:21)
I would suggest that this is the main theme, the primary heartbeat of the problem of sin. It started in the Garden when Satan asked, "Did God really say ...?" It continues every time we opt to do things our own way without regard for God's glory.

It's hard, too. It is easily possible to do "good things". Your typical atheist will do "good things". We know what constitutes good things. Be nice. Help people out. Don't lie, cheat, or steal. Lots of those things. But the Bible says that among Natural Man "there is none who does good; no, not one." (Rom 3:12) How is that? Because the only good that can be done that is really good is that which is done by God for His glory. Christians are commanded to let their good works shine in such a way that the Father is glorified (Matt 5:16). Good works done for any other reason are not good works.

I'm convinced that we get lost and confused many times because we're not thinking of why we are doing what we do. We don't understand the purpose. Since all things are to be done to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31), the correct "why" is actually quite easy -- that God may be glorified. Good works, compassion, how we run our worship service, what job you choose, what spouse you choose, how you raise your kids, and on and on ... the "why" of all that we do must be that God be glorified. Anything else, no matter how good it seems, is sin.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving, 2017

In everything, give thanks. Like ...

... the standards:
- Wife
- Parents
- Kids
- Family
- Employment
- Living in America
- Health
- Wealth
- Comfort
- All the good things

... the less noticed:
- Running water
- A hot shower
- A roof over my head
- Transportation
- Feet on which to put shoes
- Eyes with which to see
- Functioning body parts
- Air to breathe

... the unexpected:
- "Unanswered prayers"
- Missed opportunities
- Red lights
- A dead battery
- That horribly-timed flu
- The lost job
- The death of a loved one
- Bad news from the doctor

In everything give thanks. Everything. Try making your own list. I have a lot more to go.