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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Lost Art

The topic of forgiveness is a well-known topic in Scripture. Once Peter asked Jesus "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" I'd think Peter thought he was being generous. Jesus answered, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matt 18:21-22) After teaching His disciples how to pray, Jesus said, "If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matt 6:15) That ought to get our attention. We are supposed to forgive. We all get that.

There is, however, another aspect that I think, just by observation, is sorely missing these days. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, was talking about how murder included anger at a brother (Matt 5:21-22). He offered a remedy.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-24)
I think most of us read this and think, "So, if my brother has done something against me, I should forgive him rather than be angry." That's not actually what it says. What Jesus is talking about is that you "remember that your brother has something against you." Oh, now, that's different. The transgressor in this scenario is not your brother. The transgressor is you.

I think that one of the forgotten aspects on forgiveness today is not as much giving it -- in which I think we are often negligent -- but in seeking it. Jesus says not to proceed with your offering before being reconciled to your brother. That's pretty strong. The implication is "God doesn't want your gift as long as you have not made things right with those you have offended."

Asking for forgiveness is not an easy thing. It requires first the recognition that we did something wrong and, let's face it, most of us aren't particularly keen on doing that. Instead, we give reasons we did what we did or said what we said or didn't do or say what we should have. "She made me mad." "I was having a bad day." Echoes of Adam's, "It was that woman You gave me." (Gen 3:12) We've missed the point. The point is not to justify ourselves. The point is to be reconciled to your brother.

It begins, then, with repentance and humility. It owns the error rather than condoning or excusing it. It requires a recognition of the injury done rather than justification for it. There needs to be some empathy here ... because the aim is to be reconciled, not justified.

It includes actual words. Now, there are no magic words; it's all about attitude. "Here's what I did. I know that I was wrong. I know that I hurt you." Words that express a recognition of my transgression and repentance.

It includes listening. Perhaps you aren't quite aware of all that you did, of the injury you inflicted. There may be more to apologize for.

It includes, as far as possible, making things right. This can be difficult. It may be one of the most common reasons that we don't do it. In some cases, it may be impossible. But when it's possible, there should be restitution, resolution. Whatever can be done to make things right should be done.

We need to forgive others. We also need to seek forgiveness from others we have offended. Yes, we need God's forgiveness, and that ought to be at the top of our "to do" list, but it isn't always only God whom we have offended. We need to do whatever we can do to be reconciled to our brothers. Scripture suggests that to fail to do this is to interfere with our relationship with God. It has, then, horizontal and vertical repercussions. Since "love God" and "Love your neighbor" constitute the embodiment of the law, I would think this would be important to believers everywhere.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Antifa

The term is new to me. Antifa is short for "anti-fascism". It's the term of choice for the groups in all the news demonstrating against fascism.

But what is facism? The dictionary says it is "a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition." That's fine, except that almost all definitions include "right-wing system" in that definition. Wikipedia has all that stuff in it and adds, "Opposed to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism, fascism is usually placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum."

I'm not actually understanding. If "fascism" is essentially "radical authoritarian nationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and control of industry and commerce" and is "far-right", what is the "far-left" version of radical authoritarian nationalism marked by forcible suppression of opposition and control of industry and commerce? Because we see a lot of that. The far-left does indeed wish to forcibly suppress opposition and control industry and commerce (think everything from ecology to socialism). The far-left (face it, any version of any stance, right or left) does indeed want power. So what is "fascism" that the current "We will not tolerate those who don't agree with our view on these topics", "We will declare as 'hate' views that disagree with ours", "We will work to pass laws to prevent others from believing and practicing those things we consider wrong on these issues" kind of thinking is not? When Bernie Sanders said that those with Christian values were "really not someone who this country is supposed to be about", how is that different than fascism? When the far-left bans people because they're saying things this group doesn't like, how is that different than fascism?

The Atlantic has an article titled The Rise of the Violent Left. They detail violence from the anti-fascist side, the Left. While assuring us that "Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism", they point out that "in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not." The left is growing in intolerance of the free exercise of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom to assemble, just to name a few.

What I want to know is how is this different than "fascism"? When the voices opposed to fascism exhibit the same defining characteristics as the definition of fascism, how am I supposed to tell them apart?

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Company We Keep

It is a proverb of ours: "Birds of a feather flock together." It's in Scripture, too. Paul wrote, "Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals." (1 Cor 15:33) It's not like Paul was offering something unusual. Solomon wrote, "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." (Prov 13:20) The psalmist wrote, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers." (Psa 1:1) All the same idea.

We know it's true. We are shaped by the company we keep. There have been studies that show that the longer a couple is married, the closer they begin to physically resemble each other. It's the nature of the human being. Spend time in "the counsel of the wicked", "the way of sinners", and "the seat of scoffers" and you'll become wicked, sinning scoffer. It's just the way we are.

And, yet ...

In many endeavors, such as sports, we know that the way to improve ourselves is to do things with others who do what we want to do well. I learned more about playing tennis from losing to good players than by beating lesser players. You can learn more about the Bible from a good Bible teacher than from a casual reader. Spending time with those who have something valuable to offer on something you wish to obtain, whether it's skills or character traits or whatever, is the best way to obtain it. Would you like to know the secrets, for instance, of longevity of marriage? You probably won't find it spending time with the fellow that has been divorced 5 times and is working on his 6th. We know this.

And, yet ...

Who we spend time with, who makes up the cadre of closest associations, where our largest amount of time is spent -- these things will determine a lot of how we think and live. So why is it that we spend a lot of our time where we know we're being lied to? Why is it that we pay so very much attention to "the counsel of the wicked", "the way of sinners", and "the seat of scoffers"? "How?" you ask? We do it with our televisions and other choices of entertainment.

Television belongs to the world. They set the standards. They set the messages. Occasionally a Christian one might sneak through, but, if you're paying attention, it would only be extremely rarely. Every show that addresses the question of origins -- life, the planet, people, animals -- addresses it from an absolutely evolutionary way. "Evolution is true. You doubt it? You're just a stupid loser." But they don't even need that judgment in it. They state it long enough and loud enough that it's true, and everyone will believe it's a fact. Look at every representation of Christians in the media. Almost without exception they are caricatures at best and, most often, outright assaults. Look at the standards offered by the media today. If you were to judge life in America by what you see on television, everyone everywhere is having sex all the time. You'll find cop shows about cops who are solving crimes and having sex with each other. You'll find doctor shows about doctors and nurses who are taking care of patients and having sex with each other. Then there are lawyer shows ... well, you get the idea. Then throw in the underlying and unavoidable message that "gay is normal and morally acceptable" sifting into every corner of your television experience. We are being lied to. And we choose to imbibe the kool-aid.

We call it "entertainment". Better, "amusement", with an eye to the origins of the word -- "a" for "not" and "muse" for "thinking" ... "not thinking". We swallow it whole, laugh at the humor, indulge in the drama, and rarely ever consider the message. We are commanded not to be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2), but we drench ourselves with their values. We are told to "be transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Rom 12:2), but largely avoid putting much in that would transform our thinking away from the world's thinking. We nod at the command not to be friends with the world (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15) and find ourselves inviting the world into our living rooms nightly for an indoctrination session. Why?

In the words of three little known lepers, "We do not well." (2 Kings 7:9) Or in the words of James, "My brothers, these things ought not to be so." (James 3:10) If the Bible is true and Paul was correct when he said, "Bad company ruins good morals", then we might want to put some thought into our choice of nightly entertainment. If it's largely your television, then it's largely lies from the world that we're shoveling in all while we're claiming to want to be transformed into the image of Christ. Doesn't make much sense, does it? Some might even suggest that it's unbiblical.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

To Him be glory forever. Amen

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:33-36)
Paul writes this at the very end of eleven full chapters of deep, rich doctrine. He covered Man's sin condition and the only possible remedy of being saved by faith in Christ's payment on our behalf. He talked about the new life, the "baptized into His death and raised to His new life" kind of new life. He illustrated the ongoing problem of sin and the solution, the Holy Spirit at work in us. He talked of the ultimate goal -- formed into Christ's image -- and waxed eloquent about the promise that is in God's choosing, not in birth. He spoke of the power of the Word and of faith and explained how we are grafted into the tree, the root of which is Christ. Really, really big concepts. Lots of deep doctrine. So as Paul transitions from right thinking (orthodoxy) to right living (orthopraxy), he offers this doxology.

You see, Paul understood that the whole aim, the whole point, the whole purpose ... of everything is God -- His riches, His wisdom, His knowledge, His ways, His glory. God isn't a peripheral. He isn't an add-on. He isn't something we can tack onto our lives, a component of our existence. No. He is the giver of all gifts, beyond our comprehension. All that is is from Him, through Him, and to Him.

We muddle around down here thinking that we're something, thinking that we're everything. We think it's all about us. It's not. And if we could get this right, if we could see that everything comes from Him, is sustained by Him, and is for Him, it would radically alter every corner of our existence. It must.

To Him be glory forever. Amen.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

News Weakly - 8/19/2017

Pot, Meet Kettle
The president took Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to task for not repealing and replacing Obamacare yet. "Maybe," the president suggested, "he should step down." Given the impressively short list of the president's accomplishments in his current term, I wonder if he'll apply the same rule to himself?

In other news, the president is a great defender of the free market concept unless it's someone he doesn't like.

Killing Babies as a Right
Oregon has signed into law a bill "expanding coverage on abortions and other reproductive services to thousands of Oregonians, regardless of income, citizenship status or gender identity." This new law will offer free, state-paid abortions (read "your tax dollars") including sex-selective and late-term abortions. Companies will be required to cover abortions with their health insurance at no cost to the patient. Oregon has sent the nation a message. "We are willing to kill the unborn for any reason at any time on your dime and call it 'progress'. Your rights are secondary. Deal with it."

Killing Others
Not to be outdone by Oregon's generous murder laws, the Netherlands is expanding their euthanasia laws from the old and infirmed who ask to die to those with psychiatric and dementia issues without ability to decide for themselves. Their current law is for patients with unbearable suffering with no treatment alternatives, but they're aiming more toward those that don't want to live or even who might have expressed at some point "Why am I still alive?" but are no longer able to affirm their desire, even if they are not in the "unbearable suffering without possibility of treatment" category. Because in our world today human life isn't the highest value; personal preference is.

The Real Target
We're all aware of the nastiness (that's called "understatement") of last Saturday in Charlottesville. Protesters, counter-protesters, fights, mayhem, and murder ... it all got too ugly. Then, of course, the president failed to say the right thing. "There are bad people on both sides." No, no, not good enough. Try again. "Racism, neo-nazis, and white supremacists are bad." No, no, not soon enough. You should have said that the first time. Try again. "I think there is blame on both sides. What are you going to do ... take down Washington statues, too?" Nope! The military and his own party want him gone. Indeed, since he cannot say what we want, he should be impeached.

What happened in Charlottesville was horrendous. What has happened since is not making it better. And I'm not sure anyone is paying attention to where it's going. First they came for their Confederate flags. Then they came for their Confederate statues. Next is George Washington And the American flag. Once this kind of thing starts, there is no end to it. All have sinned; all ought to go down. Will they actually take it to its logical end?

The Communication Problem
We're all happy with "social media" -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram ... more names than I can list. It's making us "more connected". It's giving us all a voice. We're more able to communicate. The problem, however, is that we are able to communicate without filters. That's why Missouri state senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal put a comment on her Facebook hoping that Trump gets assassinated. With no reflection on liberals, Democrats, or anyone else, this is what we get when there are no restraints to communication. It's not all good. You should keep that in mind the next time you text, tweet, comment, or post. We don't communicate in a vacuum. There are consequences. If not here ...

Not So Funny Humor
The Babylon Bee has a way of speaking truth with humor, but this time it's not so funny. The headline reads, "Organization That Murders 200,000 People Of Color Each Year Takes Stand Against Racism." Ouch!

Friday, August 18, 2017

His Strength is Perfect

Meet Jerry Salley. You probably don't know his name (unless you're a real music geek). He's an American country and bluegrass singer-songwriter. You may not know his name, but you've probably heard one of his songs. In 1990 he won a Dove award for Inspirational Song of the Year for the song he co-wrote with Steven Curtis Chapman -- His Strength is Perfect.

Back in the day when I was a worship leader, I included that song in the church's repertoire. It sounds so right.
His strength is perfect when our strength is gone.
He'll carry us when we can't carry on.
Raised in His power, the weak become strong.
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect.
Good stuff, really, but I noticed something. While the focus is (correctly) God's perfect strength, there is a subordinate message in there as well. The song says that His strength is perfect when our strength is gone. It says He carries us when we can't carry on. The implication here is that at the end of our strength, God kicks in, so to speak. We do what we can, and when we reach that limit, God does the rest.

I think that's how most of us think. I think most of us believe that we work as long and hard as we can and then God takes over. We have some ability, some gifts, some talents, some power -- and anyone who thinks these are sufficient for all we have to do is deceiving themselves -- but at the end of the day it's not enough. Thank God He has the strength to carry us to the end. That, however, is not quite what we see in Scripture.

Jesus said, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and, to misquote Martin Luther, "That's not a little something." Paul urged the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling not because they had the capability of doing so, but because "It is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:12-13) Just the other day I came across a statement from Jesus that I've come across a hundred times and saw it there, too. He said,
Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:21)
Here Jesus is talking about two kinds of people. There are those who "loved darkness rather than the light." (John 3:19) Then there are those who come to the light. Only two. And Jesus says here that those who come to the light do so "in God", the same thought that Paul was offering.

Jesus said, "No one is good except God alone." (Luke 18:19) Therefore, any good that is accomplished, from believing to obeying (which, by the way, appears to be the same thing in Scripture -- see, for instance, John 3:36 or James 2:17) is accomplished by God in those who obey.

It leaves no room for boasting. It leaves no ground for self-satisfaction. It leaves no option of "my strength is good enough up to a point, and then He takes over." In the language of the song, "when our strength is gone" and "when we can't carry on" is from the start. On one hand, that concept diminishes us. On the other, it puts us squarely and securely on the shoulders of our God ... whose strength indeed is perfect and in whom indeed the completely weak become strong.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Is God Fair?

Stand to Reason offered a video from Greg Koukl on whether or not God is unfair. I like Stand to Reason, so I link to it here for your edification.

The question, however, struck me as ... difficult. Is God fair?

Merriam-Webster has a lot of definitions for "fair". There is "not dark" (as in "fair skin"), "not stormy" (as in "fair weather"), "clear and legible" (as in a manuscript written with a "fair hand") and "favorable to a ship's course" (as in a "fair wind"). No, not those. God isn't those (although there may be some lunatic white supremacists that think that God is "fair-skinned"). God is not "fair" by those definitions.

Merriam-Webster also defines fair as "pleasing to the eye or mind especially because of fresh, charming, or flawless quality; superficially pleasing." No, God is not fair. He is not "superficially pleasing". The pleasure He provides is not superficial, merely "to the eye", or "charming". Indeed, much of the pleasure God provides is abhorrent to those in the flesh (Rom 8:7) and even difficult for His own children to grasp.

Another definition is "marked by impartiality and honesty; free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism". God, by definition and by necessity, is self-interested. As the Highest Being, He needs to be. We are commanded to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31); He would do no less, nor should He. Beyond that, God clearly "plays favorites" in human terms. There are "the elect" (e.g., John 15:16; Mark 13:20; Rom 8:33) who have special standing with God (e.g., John 1:12-13; Acts 13:48; Eph 1:3-6; Rom 11:5; Titus 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:1). We know that Paul wrote, "God shows no partiality." (Rom 2:11) Don't stop there. The "no partiality" there refers to "all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law" (Rom 2:12) -- equal judgment. And again in Galatians 2:6, but there he was saying that God doesn't save based on "the influential" (Gal 2:2,6). God is not partial in saving based on status, race, gender .. the world's standards.

One that we're familiar with is "conforming with the established rules." Now we're getting somewhere. Yes, God conforms to established rules. The glitch here, however, is that they are not the rules that we establish; they are the rules established by Him -- His nature, His character. And since everyone conforms to their own character, this isn't really getting us anywhere on the topic, especially given the certainty that "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways." (Isa 55:8)

I think the definition most people have in mind for the word, "fair", is the one in, for example, the Cambridge Dictionary: "Treating people equally." Clearly -- absolutely -- God is not fair in that sense. No matter how you turn it, He does not treat people equally. If He did, not one of us could stand. Not one of us would be saved. Not one of us would have any hope. Equal treatment of violators of God and His glory would required equal damnation. And, quite frankly, none of us want God to be "fair" in that sense.

I think we're asking the wrong question. "Fair" is too vague, too varied, and, frankly, we're asking it from a human perspective. Our question, in effect, is "Does God treat His creation in a manner that His creation considers fair?" The answer to that is clearly "No", especially since His creation is naturally hostile to Him. He is just (right, correct, justified, righteous) (e.g., Gen 18:25; Eze 18:25; Rom 9:20-21), but we don't get to pass judgment on God's fairness. Ours task is to submit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

James on Conflict

The Book of James is an imminently practical book about how Christians ought to live. It revolves around the claim that faith produces works and includes all sorts of topics about what works faith produces. In the 4th chapter James takes on the topic of conflicts. "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?" he asks (James 4:1). James lays it out for us. There is our own personal desires (James 4:2). There is our failure to ask (James 4:3). There is the problem of selfishness, asking for things we wish to use for our own pleasures (James 4:3). But he gets down to the bottom line in the 4th verse.
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
Now, hang on, James. You reference "adulteresses" -- female. What's that all about?

James uses the feminine form of the word. Some translate it as "adulterers and adulteresses", but there is only one word in the original, and it is the feminine. Why? Well, it's just an idea, but I think James is addressing the Church, the Bride of Christ. That would be feminine, not masculine. And what exactly is adultery? It occurs when a married person determines that the spouse he or she has is insufficient. It is a looking for something else, something better, something more suitable. Thus, to call believers "adulteresses" is to say, "You are not finding your sufficiency in Christ. You're looking elsewhere." So, where does James suggest we are looking?

It isn't a guess: "friendship with the world". James is saying that, at the end of the day, the reason we have conflicts is because we are trying to be friends with the world instead of being satisfied with our Beloved.

And what is friendship with the world? Some think of "just getting along". Others call to mind "a seeker-sensitive mentality". Still others warn against syncretism, the melding of the world with the church. All are valid. The problem, James says, is that friendship with the world is "hostility toward God." Now that's not what most think. Most think it is "ministry" or "marketing the church" ... or "just getting along". After all, we have to live in the world; shouldn't we be friends?

James says that when we aim to be friends with the world -- agreeable to the world systems, the kind of thinking driven by the god of this world, the world of sin -- we make ourselves an enemy of God. So James is not saying, "Make yourselves an enemy of the world." He is saying, "Don't be a friend to the world." Don't make it your aim, your goal, your purpose to be part and parcel of this world's thinking, ethics, or standards.

Lots of Christians try to walk this narrow tightrope. "Can't we just get along?" They try to be friendly with the world just to avoid the conflicts. They find themselves adapting to the values and views of the world. Eventually, when faced with a biblical viewpoint, they more closely align themselves with the world than with the Word. James calls it spiritual adultery -- cheating on your Spouse. It is a primary cause of conflict. Don't do it. Just ... don't.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Christian Universalism

Most of us have heard the term "Universalism" or, at least, the concept. It refers to the idea that everyone is saved. There is even a denomination called "Unitarian Universalists". Now, I've read their "statement of faith" and it turns out that you can be a Jewish or a Christian or even an atheist Unitarian Universalist. You can believe in God, no God, any sort of "higher power" or none at all. You can follow sacred texts or not. They are as "diverse and inclusive" as it gets. This is the extreme "Universalism" -- universalism without reason.

I've recently become aware of a different form. They call it "Christian Universalism". They poo-poo those silly "so open-minded that their brains leaked out" Universalists and tell us that theirs is true, right, even biblical. It starts first, I think, with a distaste for Hell, that eternal judgment Scripture seems to talk about. They prefer a finite judgment from an infinite God regarding an infinite offense. If not eternal damnation, then what? Well, they'll point to passages like Romans 5:18-19.
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
There, see? "There resulted justification of life to all men." They'll find further support with things like "We're commanded to love our enemies, so God must do the same" and "We're all equal before God" (Col 3:11) and the ever-popular "God is not willing that any should perish." (2 Peter 3:9)1 They don't argue that all religions are valid. They simply say that Christ died once for all and God has reconciled all things to Himself so that salvation is universal, often in spite of other religious beliefs (or the lack thereof). All are saved by the blood of Christ and the power of God. They oppose the "You've eliminated justice" argument, holding instead that either all punishment is meted out in this life or that justice is upheld by loss of rewards in the next. One form also argues that faith is required -- that anyone can choose to go to Hell -- but that they only choose to do so after death with the whole truth before them, fully forgiven but refusing that forgiveness.

You can see that this isn't the soft and gooey "Universalism" of the Unitarian type. This stands instead on 1) a denial of Hell, 2) an affirmation of Scripture, and 2) a view of God that appears higher than others. That is, this God can be Just without supreme judgment and Salvific without requiring anything from His creatures. The squishy Unitarian type denies any reality of the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, monotheism, the Resurrection ... just about anything Christian. Christian Universalism claims to embrace all that. What could be wrong with that?

As it turns out, a lot.

A running standard requirement in Scripture from beginning to end (see, for instance, Hebrews 11) is the requirement of faith. The most basic statement of Scripture is "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (Heb 11:6) Christian Universalism is a denial of this basic concept. They use Romans 5 to prove their position and ignore completely Romans 1-4 (For instance, Romans 4:5 says, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.") Paul states categorically, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Rom 10:9) Beyond that, Scripture is full of warnings -- what people refer to as "turn or burn" statements. Jesus warns of "eternal punishment" (Matt 25:46) and Christian Universalism dismisses all that language. The author of Hebrews writes, "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment," (Heb 9:27) but the Christian Universalist necessarily denies a judgment at all since all have been restored to a right standing with God. Jesus warned of a sin that could not be forgiven (Mark 3:28-29), but Christian Universalism denies such a sin can exist since all sin is forgiven.

The doctrine of Hell -- of eternal torment for sin -- is the basic thing to be avoided because, in all honesty, it's a horrendous thought. Christian Universalism avoids it. In doing so, it voids Scripture. In fact, the doctrine of eternal torment comes first in Scripture from the lips of our Savior. The Old Testament warns of "the day of the Lord" and "the day of His wrath" and such, but the clearest statements on the subject come first from Christ (e.g., Matt 5:29-30; Matt 10:28; Matt 13:36-43; Matt 18:9). The Christian Universalists would have needed to have stood by Christ and said, "There, there ... not to worry. All that goes away when you die and rise again." They void these warnings. The rest of the New Testament does not. Paul (e.g., 2 Thess 1:9), Jude (Jude 1:7), and John (Rev 14:11; Rev 20:13-15; Rev 21:8) are all examples of concurrence, not denial of Christ's warnings about eternal torment for sin.

Christian Universalism, as it turns out, has been around since the early days of Christianity. Origen pushed for it. They like to use Scripture to argue for it. The Church has generally declared it, throughout Church history, a falsehood. Still, the idea has persisted. The notion was popular in among the Quakers and the Anabaptists (no relation to "Baptists") and the Moravians and their descendants. And, of course, there are those who cling to it today, insisting, even, that it's biblical. I can't imagine how, given the fundamental denial of the most clear statements on eternal torment from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself. Nullifying all references to the need for faith and all warnings to the threat of judgment, this segment still insists they're biblical and Christian. I cannot. It negates the reliability of Christ's words, eliminates God's Justice, diminishes the nature of sin, negates God's Justice, and elevates Man to a position requiring God to "be nice". Premised first on the "We don't like the concept of Hell" argument, it necessarily deconstructs too many Scriptural points, principles, and passages to be classified as either "biblical" or "Christian".
________
1 That one keeps coming back to bite people. On one hand, they argue "God is not willing that any should perish, but His hands are tied, hoping they come" and limit God's Sovereignty, or, on the other, they argue "God is not willing that any should perish, so none will" and eliminate His justice. There has to be a better way.

Monday, August 14, 2017

John the Baptist

I'm reading through the Gospel of John. Just started out. I found John the Baptist to be an interesting fellow.

We are first introduced to him this way:
There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. (John 1:6)
Clean, straightforward. Most of us don't blink an eye. But I was fascinated by the phrase, "a man sent from God." He wasn't merely a voice in the wilderness, a nut in a camel hair suit, an oddity. He was a man sent by God.

The text makes it abundantly clear what John's purpose was and what it was not. He "came as a witness" (John 1:7) to Christ. That was his purpose. On the other hand, "He was not the Light" (John 1:8). Yes, he was sent from God. Yes, he was a witness. But don't get ahead of the story. He was not the Messiah.

Then there was John's testimony. When he actually saw Jesus (his cousin), he "cried out, saying, 'This was He of whom I said, "He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me."'" (John 1:15) Now, hang on a minute, John. Jesus is your cousin ... your younger cousin. We know that Jesus was 6 months younger than John. Yet John claims "He existed before me." If that's not a clear claim to the deity of Christ, I don't know what is.

I want to be a John the Baptist. I want to be a witness, pointing to the Light. Not me. The Light. I want to be sent by God for that task. Not me. Sent by God. I want to point to the real Christ, the Christ who is God rather than a nice fellow. The Christ who is God above all others rather than "one of the boys." A Christ who brings light with authority that demands our attention and ought to be obeyed and followed -- the Christ who is a higher rank than I. Not me. He gets all the attention.

I know, I know. "We've read about John the Baptist, Stan, and you're no John the Baptist." I know. But I want to be.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Short of Glory

In Paul's most concise statement on the universality of sin, he writes (feel free to quote along with me ... you know the words), "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) Anyone who has spent any time in the Word knows that one. It's the standard answer to "Who is a sinner?" "Everyone, because 'all have sinned'." We get it. What we miss is the nature of that sin. Paul says that in that sin we "fall short of the glory of God." And therein lies the problem. Therein lies the reason for Hell rather than a slap on the wrist, a time of "purgatory", a "time out". The magnitude of the crime determines the magnitude of the consequence, and "fall short of the glory of God" is massive.

We humans are pretty much set in the "I am the center of the universe" kind of thinking. We can hardly escape it. Even Christians who should know better. When David said, "Against You and You only have I sinned," (Psa 51:4) many of us are uncomfortable if not a bit peeved because, after all, the big sin here was murder and adultery ... because we are the important ones. When something bad happens we question God's goodness because we are the important ones. It's this kind of thinking that produces such nonsensical heresies as "health and wealth" theology that turns God into our butler to make us happy, healthy, and wealthy. (And apparently not wise.) So, as a matter of course, we "fall short of the glory of God".

But I'm not here to berate us all for our sin. I'm offering another path. There is an alternative. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34). That which you most prize determines your focus. If you find your greatest joy in the glory of God, your heart will go there.

Now, think about that. Imagine how that might work out. Say, for instance, you have problems with lust. Maybe it's sex. Maybe it's another person. Maybe it's pornography. Whatever. As long as you find your greatest joy in those things and what they bring, they will remain your problem. But once you find your greatest joy in God and His glory, those things don't matter so much anymore. It's not a case of "will", a matter of "effort", a travail of "self-control"; it's a matter of joy. Where's your joy? It works in lust or greed or depression or pride or ... you go on with your own list. Imagine an alcoholic trying to stay off the sauce. He is offered a drink. "No, thanks," he says. "I'd better not." Fine. One approach. But if his greatest joy is God's greatest glory, his answer would be different. "Why would I do that when there are so many better things to do to glorify God?" Not only a change in direction; a change in attitude.

If your life is aimed at God's glory -- not falling short of His glory -- then your highest joy is bringing everything into alignment with glorifying Him. If you offered a meat-lover the choice of a steak or a salad for dinner, he might say, "I could eat a salad for dinner, but I'd much rather eat a steak." In a similar same way, "I could commit those sins I'm fighting, but I'd much rather glorify God." It stops being an effort, a hardship, toil and starts being a joy. It's not just a change in direction; it's a change in pleasure. Now your highest pleasure is in His glory.

If you don't fall short of the glory of God, your goal is to "do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31) Not out of duty; out of joy. Don't fall short of the glory of God. Indulge your passion for His glory.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

News Weakly - 8/12/2017

The Shroud Might Be Real!
Apparently CNA (the Catholic News Agency) is reporting that there is more evidence now that the Shroud of Turin is possibly authentic. Catholics are thrilled. Me? Not so much. I mean, what do I care about relics, all highly coveted by Roman Catholics? My faith is not in the shroud or the lance that pierced His side or the goblet from which He drank, all highly coveted items "from Christ." My faith is in Christ. And most Protestants will feel much the same. "Really? Who cares?" That is, until an archaeological dig finds evidence that substantiates something from the Bible or when science affirms something from Scripture. Then they're just as delighted. You go ahead. As for me, if I place my faith in science to affirm these things, then when science does not, I will need to deny these things. I just don't trust science that much. So when science agrees with God's Word, good for science! I'm glad they got something right. I'll still put my faith in God.

Safe not Sane
Have you heard about Rainbow Day Camp? It's a day camp in El Cerrito near San Francisco, California, that provides a safe place for transgender kids as young as 4 years old. They get to make their own nametags with their own pronoun of choice. Some change their name or pronouns daily "to see what feels right." Because as everyone knows, science has nothing to say about gender, reason has nothing to offer these kids, and safety without sanity is the very best we can offer them. After all, who knows what's true or not better than a 2-year-old, right? This is what we get for ignoring Scripture (Gen 1:27), science, and reason and opting instead to consider children the wisest beings on the planet. Some call it wonderful. Not me. The Washington Times reports, "The physician credited with discovering Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players said that anyone who lets children play football could be held accountable for abuse." This kind of mishandling of children's gender (read "irrational desires") I call child abuse.

The New Arms Race
This is serious. Japan says that North Korea has a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland and "it was possible that the regime had acquired the ability to miniaturise nuclear warheads." This is a no-win situation. The Cold War was fought with rational heads, knowing that if one side launched, the other could destroy it. "Mutually Assured Destruction" was the thing that held the Soviets and the Americans in check. The North Korean dictator gives no indication of rationality and the alternatives and possible responses all seem bad. And the rhetoric just continues to ratchet up.

I write this not to scare anyone, but to remind believers to follow Paul's entreaty. "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." (1 Tim 2:1-2) (Can you imagine what would happen if believers prayed and God opened the heart (Acts 16:14) of a Kim Jong Un to receive Him? That would be awesome!)

The Irony of Tolerance
We're all about "tolerance" these days and we won't tolerate anyone who disagrees. So when James Damore, an engineer for Google, wrote a memo criticizing Google's approach to diversity, they fired him. And when Google attempted to follow that up with an all-staff diversity meeting, they had to cancel it because staff members were afraid to ask questions for fear of reprisals. Tell me again about "tolerance" and "diversity" ... where we eliminate those we won't tolerate who are diverse.

The Latest in Autocorrect
If it hasn't happened yet, it's bound to. Google announces new technology that "autocorrects any errant thoughts its users are having, replacing them with positions approved by the company." Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, August 11, 2017

God's Name

In Paul's epistle to the church in Rome, he writes this.
As it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Rom 2:24)
No one is entirely sure to what Paul is referring with his "as it is written" statement. Written in Scripture? Written elsewhere? There are a few possible Old Testament links there; Matthew Henry lists three (Isa 52:5; Ezek 36:22-23; and 2 Sam 12:14). None are a word-for-word quote. The intent, however, is clear.

The text is talking about those of us who know what is right. After listing the moral decline of humans from knowing God to all manner of evil (Rom 1:18-32), he tells his readers (who would be clucking their tongues and agreeing that "those people" are evil), "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things." (Rom 2:1) Oops! Walked into that one. Paul tells his readers that they know what is right and what is wrong and they point their fingers at those who do wrong while they themselves are guilty of the same things. Paul goes on to do what we called in the Air Force some "wall-to-wall counseling" (something you don't want to actually experience) explaining to them that "You think you're so good? Well, you're not. You're equally guilty of sin."

So, sinners who recognize sin and indulge in it while claiming to be followers of God are causing the name of God to be blasphemed among unbelievers. Okay, got it.

But ... isn't that every one of us? We who call ourselves followers of Christ -- who know the truth, who affirm and endorse God's Word, who long to be conformed to the image of Christ -- do we not manage to violate His commands? This is a problem.

I, for one, am delighted that "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) I need that. But rather than needing ongoing forgiveness, I would much prefer to stop misrepresenting my Savior, to stop being an example of why I need salvation and be an example of what Christ can do in a changed life. I'd much rather demonstrate the power of God at work in His children than be a cause for people to blaspheme the name of God. It is my goal, my day-by-day aim, my constant prayer. I want my life to be a reason for people to glorify God rather than a reason for them to question Him. I have not yet arrived, but I press on (Phil 3:12), because my shortcomings here are my heartbreak and His successes here is great joy to me.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Against Thee and Thee Only

I grew up with the King James Bible, so there are things in Scripture that are etched in my memory in King James English. "Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." (James 2:17) "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name." (Matt 6:9) You get the idea. The title phrase comes from the King James version of Psalm 51 in which David writes (using normal English),
Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment. (Psa 51:4)
If you know the circumstances, you know what David is talking about (2 Sam 11:1-17). David had had a sexual encounter with Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. It would have ended there, but Bathsheba was pregnant as a result. So David tried to get Uriah to spend the night with his wife. He wouldn't. So finally David had Joab arrange to get Uriah killed in battle. We're looking at covetousness, adultery, deception, and murder. Then Nathan the prophet confronted him and David repented (2 Sam 12:1-14). Psalm 51 is David's prayer of repentance to God.

It's a very good prayer. It has all the necessary elements. There is a plea to God for mercy without any sort of self-defense. There is the recognition of guilt without excuse. There is a singular focus on restoring a right relationship with God rather than avoiding consequences. There is a primary concern for God's glory rather than self-preservation. It's all about how God is good and right and David is not ... from birth (Psa 51:5). All the right stuff.

But this phrase -- "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight" -- seems ... problematic. "Um, David, I think you need to reconsider that," some might say. (In a recent discussion of the text some actually did say that.) There was adultery -- a violation of Bathsheba. There was the deception and murder of Uriah. And, of course, as a consequence of his sin, the baby did not survive. There was the violation of the trust of the nation in their king and the violation of his own family as husband and father. "Lots of sins, David. Lots of them. In what sense is this 'Against You, You only'?"

Some say that this text is proof that the Bible is wrong. Either the heading in verse 1, "A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba", is wrong, or David himself is wrong. Some say that David believed himself justified as king to do as he pleased with Uriah and Bathsheba, so the only sin was against God. I would disagree with these. What does the text say?

David gives the reason that he says, "Against you, you only have I sinned" -- "so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment." In the story, no one else brings judgment against David. Joab, his general, never says, "You know, David, having me get Uriah killed was wrong." Bathsheba doesn't say, "David, you shouldn't have been looking at me from your roof and you shouldn't have called me to your bed." No one else brings judgment to David. But God did. And David argues that God was right to do so. God was right in His judgments that David still faced -- lifelong strife (2 Sam 12:10), the loss of his family and their place in the kingdom (2 Sam 12:11), and public humiliation (2 Sam 12:12). Also, take note that God calls it sin against Him rather than against anyone else. "Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?" (2 Sam 12:9) In this context, the sin against God was to despise His commands; the result of that sin was adultery and murder.

Bottom line, I think I see our problem. In the story of David and his sins, we see first the evils he did against other people. The assault on the throne of God is secondary in our minds and, perhaps, even less worrisome. I mean, God's a big guy; He can take care of Himself. I think that we see person-to-person sins as worse than the violation of God's glory that we perpetrate every time we sin. The magnitude of that violation is far beyond what evils we do to one another, but being sinful people, I think we miss that. If we got it, we would love much more (Luke 7:47).

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Freedom of Religion

It's in the news again. A Madison, Wisconsin, photographer is going to court to try to retain her freedom of religion against laws that try to strip it away.

One of the best known amendments in the Constitution's Bill of Right is the First Amendment which ensures several rights at once. These include the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom to assemble, and the freedom to petition the government. Good things. But just as our culture has been drifting in its definitions of words for so long, I think they are drifting in the meaning of these as well.

For instance, somehow the "freedom of speech" has been stretched to include the freedom of strippers to take their clothes off. It's "self-expression", they argued, so it is "free speech". Without words, written or spoken. Go figure.

One clearly changing meaning is the common understanding of "freedom of religion". The language, first, does not speak of "freedom of religion." Here's what the bill says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
Notice, then, that the phrase, "freedom of religion", is not in there. What it does say is two-fold. First, Congress shall make no law to establish religion. (Oddly, many court cases these days are not about Congress or lawmaking, but about simply having anything religious in public.) That's one side. On the other, it says that Congress shall not prohibit "the free exercise thereof."

So, how is that different than today? Today our society is happy to say, "Believe what you want" (in terms of religion, of course). "You want to believe in a flying spaghetti monster? Go right ahead. You can believe it 'til the cows come home. But, do not bring that into the public square. Do not allow it to influence anything 'out here'. 'In there' is fine. What you believe in the privacy of your own home is fine. But not out here." "See?" they say. "You are free to believe whatever religion you want."

That's not freedom of religion. That's not what the amendment promises. That's not even rational.

Religion, by its nature, changes lives. No matter what religion it is, it alters your life. Buddhists are supposed to act "this way". Muslims are supposed to live "that way". Christians are supposed to be changed entirely, from the innermost being on out. We are to "be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2).

The problem in Christianity is the heart (Matt 15:19). The correction to this problem in Scripture is to be "born again" (John 3:5-6). We aren't called to be good little believers; we're called to die (Gal 2:20). We are saved not by proper beliefs held in private, but by faith in Christ that produces works (Eph 2:8-10; James 2:17). To be a Christian requires a changed life wrought by a new relationship with the Living God that alters the heart, the mind, and every aspect of being. That, in the language of the First Amendment, is "the free exercise" of the Christian faith.

So when they tell you, "You cannot bring your religion into the public square", they are telling you "You cannot exercise your faith." When they say, "You can't bring your religion into the legislature", they're telling you, "You do not have the right to the free exercise of your religion." When they tell you, "Believe what you want, but don't tell anyone about Christ", they're telling you, "You do not have the freedom of religion promised to you by the Bill of Rights."

No religion can be limited to private access. It is not part of the nature of religion. Fundamentally a religion must, if it has any validity, alter your actions wherever you are. Even if that religion is science, materialism, or humanism. Particularly if that religion is Christianity. Christianity that does not effect all of life is "dead faith".

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

A Subtle Lie

Denny Burk wrote a piece on the Four stages of "evangelical" affirmation of gay marriage which was interesting and helpful. Rosaria Butterfield offered one more. I think her observation was key and important for our day.

Burk says there are more than 4 stages and was just highlighting the arc, so his 4 stages started with 1) opposing gay marriage, then 2) opposing taking a stand on the question, then 3) affirming gay marriage, and finally 4) attacking biblical marriage proponents. Burk was pointing out that the process begins with agreement -- "Yes, the Bible is clear on the topic and gay marriage isn't biblical" -- and ends with two groups that were once united and are now at war. Rosaria wanted to add a step between 1 and 2. She argues that the step between "It's wrong!" and "Let's not talk about it" is the buy-in to the "born that way" concept. She uses the terms "how" and "who". That is, "Gay is who I am" rather than "how I am." You see, "who I am" is morally neutral. "By birth" carries with it no moral weight. When Christians buy that, they are on the way to the rest of it.

This is part of the normalization process, process by which we come to think of the unusual as the normal. If we're told that people are "born that way" enough times, then we begin to think of it as normal. You don't have to show it; you don't have to prove it. We just accept it. In fact, many actually argue, "God made me this way" with the consequent "so it must be good." And most Christians are buying into this thinking simply because we've been told it so many times. Now, the truth is I have no position on "born that way". It may be so and it may not. That's because to me it's irrelevant. I don't know the subtleties of genetics (and neither does anyone else) nor hormones nor the effects of upbringing and ... all that stuff, but I do know that if X is a sin (by God's definition, the One authorized to call something "sin") and I'm "born that way" to do it, I do not have the option of saying, "Because I'm born that way, I can and should do it" thinking that God will agree. Most males, for instance, are "born that way" when it comes to lust. So? The command is clear -- don't lust. So most males need to choose not to do it rather than tossing God out the window and saying, "He made me this way, so it's good."

When we buy into defining ourselves by a sin condition and calling it normal and, therefore, good, we've left behind the Author of good and will find ourselves wallowing in places God told us not to go. On this topic, it is the difference between "homosexual" and "homosexual behavior". One is a "nature"; the other is a choice. The choice remains a sin and buying the argument that it is purely nature puts the onus on God to either repent of His mistake in making a person that way or change His instructions ... both of which make Him no longer God.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Silver Lining

Those who follow Christ and believe in His Word live in increasingly difficult times. America was a nation founded by men who were either believers themselves or, at the very least, valued their positions. It was, in that sense, a "Christian nation" (understanding that no nation can receive Christ and be saved from its sin). As time has progressed we've moved farther and farther from that starting point until our day when we can see more open hostility to God and His Word and to Christianity and its values. Once embraced, then accepted, then tolerated, now we're moving more toward openly rejected with outright persecution at the later end of that trajectory. Besides the popular culture today, there is also an assault on biblical Christianity within the larger group calling themselves "Christians". In America today where independence is prized even over truth, "I feel like Christianity should be more like ..." becomes king and God's Word is held loosely, hostage to preference rather than content. "Sure, it may look like it says that, but since I don't think it should say that, it certainly doesn't say it." That's if they don't just reject it outright.

So today, from an external perspective, we have ... chaos. Open and loud Christian voices (remember, "external perspective") are saying things like "Same-sex sex is good", "Marriage can be between people of the same gender", "No, Jesus didn't die for your sins", "Hell doesn't actually exist", "No, God didn't create the universe; random chance did it" and all sorts of apparently anti-biblical things. And the world nods and says, "Now those Christians are reasonable. We can go along with them and do all those things we wanted to that the older generation claimed was sin." Frankly, folks, it looks bad, and it looks like it's getting worse. At some point those holding the view of that infamous "older generation" will no longer be ignored, but will be hunted down to either correct their faulty, biblical thinking or silenced in some way or another.

I, however, can see a silver lining to these clouds. I can see a real benefit here. Tell me what you think.

Throughout Church history the clearest moments have been moments like these. "No, Jesus was not God," Arius said, "he was a creation of God." The Council of Nicaea met and condemned it as heresy. "Look, there are lots of 'books of the Bible'," Marcion said, "and I can pick the ones I like." The Church met and determined (over a few councils because of a few disagreements) that "This is the Old Testament and this is the New Testament. Case Closed." And so on and so on, seemingly ad infinitum. Indeed, much of the New Testament was written for that purpose. Paul wrote to the Galatians about "saved by grace apart from works" because they were believing the legalists. He wrote to the Corinthians about sin in the camp and faulty use of gifts because there was sin in the camp and faulty use of gifts. He wrote to the Colossians because they were buying into Gnosticism. And on and on. Over and over again assaults on Christianity came and, rather than destroying it, they served to clarify it.

I see our current time as another clarification. There are likely various points available and even required, but I see one or two key ones in our time. First, as always, is "Who is God?" In some times, He was "out there", transcendent, above and beyond all, and we just did what He said. In other times, He was "right here", imminent, "just one of the guys", so to speak -- "My big buddy in the sky." Today a sizable number who say they believe in Him see Him as their extension. He is whatever they think He is. He is benevolent and you guys who think He has some sort of wrath complex against sin are mistaken. He is gracious and you nut jobs who think He's about rules and regulations and "You must be born again" limitations are overzealous and wrong. This is a time of great diversity between what Scripture says about God and who He is and what people think He is. This, therefore, is an opportunity for clarification. Are you going to go with the popular, or are you going to go with the biblical?

I suppose I've already hit on the other major question of our day. The Quran refers to "the people of the book," referring to people whose faith is built on a book -- in this case, the Bible. Christianity is indeed a faith built on the Scriptures, on God's Word. It claims to be breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16-17), a work of people directed by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). It claims to be the Word of God, centering on the Word of God Incarnate (John 1:1). Of course, in our day anyone who believes that the Bible is the Word of God -- reliable, undeniable, accurate, inerrant ... all that "the Word of God" entails -- is classified as a loon, a narrow-minded idiot, uneducated and beneath recognition. One popular epithet is "fundamentalist", and not in a good way. Well, folks, here you are; a moment for clarity. Where does your allegiance lie? Is God's Word what it claims to be, what the Church has always believed it to be? Or is it ... less? Anything except "the inerrant, infallible rule of faith" has a broad range of positions. They range from "mostly" to "contains God's Word" to "a good book even though there are flaws" to "possibly God's Word, but we can't understand it with any certainty" all the way to "No, not at all." Do you fall on that spectrum, or do you stand on the Word of God for your doctrine, your worldview, the corrections in your life, your ongoing instructions? More plainly, are you your final authority, or is God's Word your final authority? Circumstances today make the question clear.

I've heard many people bemoaning our times. I get it. I've heard more than a few expressing concern about whether or not Christianity will make it through. I understand the feeling. But since my position begins with God's Word and Jesus said, "I will build My church" (Matt 16:18), I will have to conclude that the Church itself is not in danger of destruction even in the hardest times. I think, instead, that God can use these darkening skies around us to do some cleaning house, both in who calls themselves "Christian" and in the hearts of His own. In easier times when "We're all Christians" was the mainline thinking, you didn't have to be so careful about what you thought about these things. Now you do. Now you have to count the cost. Now the questions loom larger because the stakes are getting higher. I see that as a silver lining. That's a good thing.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

In the Beginning, God



In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1).






Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light (Gen 1:3).




Then God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them"; and it was so (Gen 1:11).




God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also (Gen 1:16).





Then God said, "Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens." (Gen 1:20)





God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Gen 1:27).

That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom 1:19-20)

Saturday, August 05, 2017

News Weakly - 8/5/2017

Marriage Declines
I found this article from Bloomberg quite startling. According to reports, marriage is on the decline. (No surprise there.) Average ages for first marriages for women has risen from 25.5 in 2005 to 28 in 2015 and for men it was 27 in 2005 and almost 30 in 2015. Beyond that, numbers of new marriages have been falling regardless of the economy. (It dropped in the 2008-2009 recession, but didn't recover afterward.) In 1995 the number was slightly less than 9 out of 1,000 having a first-time marriage; today it's less than 7. Further, in order to align ourselves with the rest of the developed countries, we'd have to fall about a third to get to their levels -- 6.9 for us versus 4.6 for the European Union. Face it, folks, marriage is on the decline, and not in a good way.

The article goes on to discuss the effect on wedding businesses because, after all, Bloomberg is a business magazine. I'm not thinking about business. I'm thinking about the condition of marriage. Divorce is high; marriage is falling. Paul said that marriage "refers to Christ and the church" (Eph 5:31-32). Now, imagine that you're anti-God -- say, Satan -- and you know that marriage is intended as an illustration of Christ's relationship with His Church. What would you do? Well, I'd do exactly what we observe. Diminish God's intent in the eyes of the people. Defame marriage. Deconstruct marriage. Minimize marriage. Eventually redefine it into oblivion. Congratulations! Marriage is on the decline, but, better yet, God's perspective is also negated. That's just the ticket ... if you're anti-God.

And I find people that call themselves Christians applauding this. Blinded ... at best.

Misapplied
J.K. Rowling is the British author of the Harry Potter series. Recently she ranted against the Amerian president because of a video she saw that depicted him refusing to shake the hand of a disabled boy. As it turned out, the video was edited and the president actually did greet the boy in the wheelchair. So, attempting to show good form, Rowling apologized for her remarks ... to the boy and his family. Of course, she didn't insult the boy and his family, so ...? Bad form, J.K. An apology for an unwarranted attack on someone that is not applied to the someone who was attacked is a misapplied apology -- or, if you prefer, not an apology at all -- thus demonstrating that even when some people do what might look like good, it's not necessarily good.

Missing the Point
Scientists from Oregon Health and Science University have reported a huge breakthrough in medical research. They created multiple human embryos via IVF with a gene that contributed to a particular genetic heart problem. They used these to experiment with a gene-editing technique whereby they could fix the problem -- repair the genes. They are reporting that the experiment was a success and they successfully edited the genes to correct the defect. Woohoo! Now, it is illegal in this country to allow these things to come to term, so the embryos were destroyed, but, hey, they believe they can edit genes to fix problems and even enhance human beings. It's as if they're saying, "Of course we had to kill quite a few babies to do it and we don't actually know what will happen if we carry this to the end of the process without killing them, but, surely, this is a good thing, right? I mean, it's good that we killed some people to accomplish this task ... right? Besides, we're the best ones to figure out how to improve on God's design." (How is the not child sacrifice?) You see, health and comfort and all sorts of things are far more important than life. And the ramifications of that kind of thinking will not end well.

A Shocking Feminist
This really was a shock. A '60's feminist sees where her ideology has brought us, and wonders, "Will my baby granddaughter pay the price of my fight for equality?" An example of her observations:
It's somehow ironic that the one section of society which still dresses modestly — women in ethnic and religious minorities — say they do so to protect their sacred space as females. Meanwhile, the majority of other young women brutally expose their bodies, catering to every tawdry male fantasy, as a sign of their 'freedom'.
No, it's not a fully "Christian perspective", but from a simply rational human point of view, she gets it.

Need to Increase Research Funding
Despite the years of effort and work and research and the money thrown at the problem, the latest reports say that mortality rates are still very near 100% for human beings. Sad, isn't it?

Friday, August 04, 2017

Sex

I know, the title looks like click bait. I mean, sex sells, right? But this is about what the Bible has to say. And the Bible has more than a few things to say about sex. You know, things like "not before marriage" and "not with anyone other than your spouse in marriage" and such. No two people of the same sex. No family members. No animals. All sorts of things. In fact, sometimes too much. (Seriously, that "no animals" thing was something I'd just rather not even have heard about.) We all know this. When it comes to sex, God is some sort of cosmic killjoy.

If you think it ends there, however, you're missing something. Even in marriage, the Bible has something to say about sex. Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth says what might be considered some startling things.
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Co 7:3-5)
"Yeah, sure, so?" I can hear it now. But take a good look at what it says.

First, one of the primary purposes of marriage is found in the verse just before the passage above. "Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." (1 Cor 7:2) One of the God-breathed purposes of marriage, then, is to prevent sexual immorality. If you aren't tempted to any sort of sexual immorality, that's one less reason to marry. All the rest of us ...

So the rest of the passage in view here is specifically related to preventing sexual immorality. From this perspective, sex is not optional in marriage. It is mandatory. It is part of the design. It is interesting, then, that Paul speaks first to husbands. He should "give to his wife her conjugal rights." In the Old Testament, the term was "marriage rights" (Exo 21:10). It is part of the obligations of the husband to give his wife the sexual relations she needs. The sexual relations that she needs. Now, come on, guys. You know what I'm saying. That romance stuff. The gushy stuff. The holding hands, candle-lit dinners, smooching ... the kinds of things she needs. So while guys are quick to jump on the next phrase -- "Yeah, the wife is supposed to give the husband his conjugal rights" -- we're equally quick to ignore this one. (And, I suppose, to be fair, wives are quick to protest that second one. "Men! They're all alike.")

The next one is more difficult to grasp. We are taught by our parents, by our culture, by our own self-centered natures that our bodies are our own. It is the battle cry of the pro-abortion folk that women's bodies are their own. It is the fundamental basis for everything from pink, blue, and purple hair coloring to tattoos and body piercing -- "I am my own person. My body is my own." And God says here through Paul, "No ... no it's not." Believers wishing to follow Christ will have to admit that all we have and are belongs to God. You recall, for instance, that Paul says that we are crucified with Christ, and the life we live now is Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20). Elsewhere we see "You were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body." (1 Cor 6:20) We do not belong to ourselves. Our bodies do not belong to us. And this text makes it abundantly clear that, while in general our bodies belong to God, in marriage our bodies are also owned by our spouses.

You think it's different, don't you? You think you have a secret sex life. Maybe it's porn or an affair. You think that your private thoughts about it, your little (or big) fantasies, perhaps just some stolen moments alone are your own. You do so against the Word of God. Your body does not belong to you. For the married, it belongs to God and to your spouse. He or she has to rule on what you do with it.

In marriage, then, the husband's duty is not to find the sexual pleasure he seeks in his wife, but to provide to his wife what she wants from him. The wife's duty is not to do as she pleases in the bedroom, but to provide for her husband what he wants from her. "Oh, now, see? What if he's asking from her things she should not do?" Well, now we're back to the first one, aren't we? "Husbands, your body does not belong to you." He is supposed to be giving to her what she needs, including compassion, empathy, support, comfort, honor ... you get the idea. In the area of sex, men are typically seen as and even prone to be the violators, but it turns out that it's both sides, because neither of us tend to live like our bodies are not our own.

Scripture is clear. Sex in marriage isn't optional. It is foundational. But it isn't self-centered and it is premised on the notion that we don't own our own bodies. In cases where a couple might separate for a time for spiritual purposes, even that is tightly regulated to a brief time "so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." It's not minor. It is one of the key purposes of marriage.

Now, of course, I'm not going to examine this with you further. That is up to you. "Am I doing what this says?" That's your question for yourself. "Am I properly aware of this purpose of marriage and seeking to satisfy it?" That's up to you to answer. "Do I even know what my spouse needs from me in the bedroom?" Maybe you should find out. I would argue, however, that a marital sex life based on these principles would be anything but boring or coercive. So much for God as a cosmic killjoy. Turns out that He thinks highly of sex. After all, He designed it for His purposes (plural) and commands it for the married. Good sex is biblical. Unfortunately, our world has so twisted sex as to almost entirely obscure what "good sex" is -- an other-centered gift between husband and wife.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Liar!

I watched a TV show (better than a real life example that might cause the thought train to derail) in which a character -- let's call him "Tim" for the sake of discussion -- had information that he did not want to share with his wife-to-be about the place they would live. (Apparently a murder had taken place there over a decade ago.) Some of his coworkers berated him. "You're such a liar!" One said, "No, that's not a lie. He's just keeping it a secret."

Now, we all know what a lie is ... right? I'm not so sure, once we think it through. Dictionary.com says it is "a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth." Applying that definition to Tim, you couldn't say he lied. He made no "false statement". Omission of the truth is the opposite of making a statement. Of course, Dictionary.com goes on to offer a second definition: "something intended or serving to convey a false impression." Okay, now we have the other side of the lie -- the intent to deceive. That is, there is the lie of commission -- speaking a falsehood -- and the lie of omission -- leaving out something in order to deceive.

So far, so good. I think we're all on the same page here. A person can lie -- attempt to deceive -- by either presenting something that is known to be false or failing to present a truth in order to give a false impression. Now, you can decide about our TV show character on your own. He didn't present false information, but he did omit information. Was it an intent to deceive? Or was it simply that he didn't think the information was important and she didn't need to know it? I think it gets a bit sticky at this point.

But wait! It gets stickier. If simply withholding information is classified as a lie, where does that end? You see, there isn't a man, woman, or child among us that does not hold back information. We all do it. We all expect it. Frankly, requiring "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" in its most literal form would make relationships impossible. Detailing every single thought, action, emotion, and event in one's life to one other person would become a never-ending process. So, we necessarily filter stuff. "This is significant; that is not." Sometimes things move from "significant" to "not" and vice versa. Sometimes things are remembered that were not before. We all withhold information about ourselves and what we know, think, and feel. Is that necessarily a lie?

But wait! It gets even stickier. I remember there was this big complaint back in the Bush era -- "Bush lied, people died!" The argument was that when President Bush sent troops into Iraq, he did so under false pretenses -- an attempt to find WMDs. They weren't there (actually, they were, but we'll just leave that alone), therefore, he lied. But sticking with that definition we've come up with, is that a lie? If someone presents false information that they actually believe to be true, can it be called an attempt to deceive? Is the "innocent" presentation of false information -- innocent in the sense that they didn't know it was false -- actually a lie or is it just an error, a mistake, erroneous information? This would make it possible to "attempt to deceive" without even knowing it. And given the human condition of a deceitful heart (Jer 17:9) and blinded people (2 Cor 4:4), it would make the lie the norm rather than the exception just by being mistaken in what you think you know. Is that a lie?

And, yes, it gets one step stickier. Are all lies -- even the "intent to deceive" kind -- sin? We know, for instance, that Rahab lied about the spies (Josh 2:1-5) and was commended by Scripture (Heb 11:31; James 2:25) for doing so. We know that God commanded Samuel to present a partial truth in order to deceive King Saul (1 Sam 16:1-3). And, of course, we have these stories of Christians protecting Jews in Nazi Germany by means of deceiving the authorities; most people consider that a good thing. So can it be said that all lying is evil?

If you haven't figured it out, this is one of my occasional question posts. I'm not making statements here as much as asking questions. What is a lie? Does omitting facts necessarily constitute lying? Does presenting false information that one believes to be true make it a lie? Is all lying sin? You tell me, because some of this seems a bit hazy.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

God is Good All the Time

Some fifty years ago a 17-year-old girl jumped into the Chesapeake Bay and broke her neck, making her an instant and lifelong quadriplegic. Joni Eareckson Tada wrote a piece entitled Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of My Diving Accident. Worth the read.

Something she wrote really struck me.
Back in the ’70s, my Bible study friend Steve Estes shared ten little words that set the course for my life: “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”
So true. Oh, you doubt it? Well, let's start with an easy one. Do you suppose He "loved" sending His Son to die? Not at all. But He did more than permit it; He planned it (Acts 2:22-23) ... down to the last detail (Acts 4:26-28).

Joni has made her life a ministry, especially to the disabled, all while living in a wheelchair. She was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and suffers continually from excruciating pain. And yet she finds reasons to praise God not in spite of her condition, but because of it. We -- even those of us who dislike the "your best life now" theology -- want something different. We want comfort and comfortable. We want health and wealth, even though we reject the "health and wealth" mindset.

Joni told one college-aged volunteer, "I thank God every day for my wheelchair." She is not practicing our common "I thank God when He makes things go well for me." She is practicing basic Christian obedience -- "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess 5:18) -- from a mindset that says, "God is good all the time." We need that adjustment in our thinking. Not "Is what God is giving me good?" but "Whatever He gives me is good and I will rejoice in it." It would solve all those pesky, "Why me, God?" questions and ease a lot of painful circumstances. Most of us are not there yet.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Misogyny

It's built on two Greek terms. The first part, "miso", comes from the Greek term for "hate"; the second, "gyny", is from the Greek for "woman". Easy. Misogyny is the hatred of women. As opposed to misanthropy -- the hatred of humans -- or misandry -- the hatred of males. Well, you get the idea. Hating women is a bad thing.

But what does that look like? We all understand that mistreating women, abusing women, hurting women is bad. However, as I've pointed out in the past, we have a general problem of determining exactly what "harm" actually is. It is my suspicion that a lot of we consider "liberation" and "freedom for women" is equally misogynistic.

Consider my starting premises. 1) God is good. 2) The Bible is God's Word. Ergo, what God says in the Bible is good.

So, we do not want to be misogynistic. Hating women ... or men or anyone ... is a bad thing. Let's not do that.

And, yet, in the name of "women's rights" and the "advancement of women" we, even Christians, will argue that wives should not submit to their husbands. Now, hang on a minute. Isn't that a clear command? Do we not plainly read, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22)? Did Peter not clearly say, "Wives, be submissive to your own husbands" (1 Peter 3:1)? If this is God's command in God's Word, is it loving to encourage wives to defy God?

Paul wrote, "I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ." (1 Cor 11:3) Clear enough, isn't it? Now, we can discuss nuances. Headship is not lordship. Women are not required to submit to all men. Abuse of headship is abuse and abuse of women is abuse, and abuse is right out. Yes. But when we -- both our culture and, more importantly, fellow believers -- argue against these plain texts, is this good for women? More to the point, if it is good for women, then we will need to revisit our first point -- God is good -- because He made these commands and statements and we're saying He was wrong.

Wives have a unique position in a biblical worldview. Unless they are being told to violate God's Word, they can be quite sure that they are in God's will as long as they follow their husband's leading. Husbands don't get that option. So wives can know what the will of God is as long as they, you know, obey what God says they should do. And we come along and tell them, "Oh, no. Throw that out. Don't submit to that guy. He doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain." We offer lame ideas of "equality" and then argue that "men and women are equal", suggesting that God did not make men and women to complement each other with their own sets of propensities, strengths, and capabilities. "No, no," they'll argue, "we're all equal" meaning not "we're equal in value" but "we're equal in every way." This isn't helping women. Ignoring God's design is not helpful to women.

Men who abuse women are misogynists. No doubt. And that's a bad thing, whether they're husbands or merely associated in some sense. Whether it's physical or mental or emotional abuse. "Wives submit" is not permission to hate women. Misogyny would include objectifying them and lusting after and minimizing them. But women prove themselves misogynists when they shake their fists in the face of God and say, "No! We will not submit!" As if that's good for women. As if fracturing God's commands and protections makes for better lives for women. When Christians argue "Women should be pastors just like men" in the face of "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet" (1 Tim 2:12-14) (a passage that lays the responsibility for sin in humans at Adam's feet, not Eve's), we are not being loving. We are defying the God who made us. When we do that to the detriment of women, it is misogyny. And hating women is wrong. Encouraging women to follow God and His commands is not misogyny, and that's good. But you knew that, right?

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Nemesis of Worship Services?

I was traveling for a few weeks and got to visit a few far-flung churches. Beyond that, I've been in churches since before I could remember. And I'm obviously aware of my own church's practices. One very common event that seems to happen in many, many churches is, to me, the nemesis of worship services. (Let me stress again -- to me. I am not suggesting this is "God's word on the subject" nor that it is true for everyone.) To me it is the killer of the worship moment, the end of the worship momentum. If church worship begins when the service starts and carries on through the end of the sermon, this singular event is the speed bump of the whole thing. What is it? It's that oh-so-popular "meet and greet" that so many churches practice.

You know the one. "Let's stand and greet one another." It occurs after a song or two, maybe a few introductory remarks from some leader, maybe even some announcements. We've just started "warming up", so to speak. "Let's look at God in song." If there are announcements, it can be, "Let's look at what God is doing in our church." And then ... "Stop looking at God and let's look at each other." For the regulars, it's more popular, although studies suggest that many of them aren't so comfortable with it either. A brief salute to friends you know. For the visitors, it can be harrowing. They often feel like targets. "No one knows us and everyone will try to in the next few moments." As if that could actually happen (getting to know someone in a few minutes). Or, worse, many regulars will greet regulars and ignore new people. (It can be hard to break into a church.) A very common complaint is "I'm an introvert and this is really uncomfortable." Whatever the sequence and whatever the purpose, one thing is consistent; we were on a trajectory to pay close attention to God ... and now we are not.

Now, to be honest, I'm not nearly as concerned about what people feel about this event. I'm more concerned about why. Why do we do it? Why do we do it when we do it? Is there really a point here, or is it random ... "tradition"? Have we really thought this through? Most importantly, if the church service is primarily about worship, what place does this hold in that? It may cause people to feel uncomfortable, but so does the preaching of the Word. It may make people unhappy, but church is not about making people feel happy. My concerns are about purpose and effect on the worship.

I wish (again, "to me") it was gone. I'm not talking about "uncomfortable" or "I don't like it". I'm talking about a practice that is an interruption to worship. I can certainly see the need for "the right hand of fellowship" (Gal 2:9). (I wonder why no one argues for "Greet one another with a holy kiss." (Rom 16:16) It is biblical.) I can see the wisdom in greeting, meeting, fellowship, all that good stuff. My only concern is when. Does it need to be done in the middle of the service, in the flow of worship? Maybe it would work before the worship begins. Maybe it would be better at the end of the service -- "Be sure to greet one another as you go." My one and only thought on this is that in the middle of the service it is simply a distraction from the aim of worship.

But, as ever, that's just me. I doubt that my church will stop doing it at my request. (After all, it's the church I attend, not the church I run.) I doubt that my concern about the flow of worship and the attention it takes away from God at that time is a largely shared concern (or it would have been addressed a long time ago). And, frankly, I doubt that most churches have actually put much thought into the practice. It's just supposed to be "fellowship", "friendly", that sort of thing. "And if you don't like it, go somewhere else." (I would hope that no church would ever say that; it's just the sense of it. "We won't change it. It's your problem. Get over it.") And that's just me. Probably just the curmudgeon in me leaking out. I, however, don't think that a sincere concern for the glory of God is a personal, trivial, or pointless concern. To me.