Friday, July 03, 2015

Which Comes First?

Interesting. Jesus said this:
"If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself." (John 7:17)
Now, isn't that a little backward? Do we know His teaching is from God and then will to obey, or do we will to do His will and then know it is of God? Do we know the truth and follow it, or do we first determine to follow the truth and then know it?

Jesus seemed to think that a prior commitment to obedience was a prerequisite to knowing that He was from God and His words were truth. Not how we ordinarily think about it. But it does go a long way toward explaining why His truth gets rejected, even by some who claim to follow Him.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

On Horses and Chariots

If ever there was a completely outdated and therefore useless verse in the Bible, it would be this one, wouldn't it?
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD! (Isa 31:1)
Oh, sure, we can translate from "horses" and "chariots" to "humvees" and "jeeps", but, seriously, we (Christians) aren't waging war anymore, so what's the point?

If that's what you come away with, perhaps you ought to look a little closer. The text is not about "How to wage war", but about the place you put your confidence and the One you seek.

Ironic, isn't it? Israel, facing enemies they feared, went to Egypt for help. You remember, Egypt, the nation that enslaved them for 400 years. The nation to which, having escaped, they constantly begged to return as slaves (Acts 7:39). The nation that God commanded them to never go to for help (Deut 17:16). Against reason and command, Israel went to Egypt for help against their enemies. That's the same Egypt that the New Testament references as the symbol of worldliness (Jude 1:5). Israel, then, idolized the world that enslaved them and sought to use their tools to defeat their enemies.

That's half the problem. The other half is that they did not look to God or consult the LORD. You see, it is not in the use of tools available in the world that is the problem. It is in the trust in those tools. It is in the assumption that they can and should do whatever it takes to accomplish their ends, even if it means returning to those who enslaved them. But the right answer is not there. The right answer is in looking to God and seeking Him. The right answer is in placing their trust in the One who has delivered before and can always deliver.

Well, now, it seems as if we have left the outdated and useless text of Isaiah 31 and ended up in the pews and pulpits of the churches of our day. Look around. Isn't this exactly where we are today? We have decided that the methods and forms of our world are the best tools to accomplish God's work. It's in the music and in the language. It's in the approaches to people and even to faith. We've incorporated what the world says works and trust our musical performances, our videos and dramas, our cool clothes and hip fashions, our wise apologetics, our sage scientific strategies, and our "social justice". God, you see, is "out there" and we, in our wisdom, have figured out that we can accomplish His work by our methods which, by the way, are informed by Egypt, not Jerusalem. So we place our trust in our procedures and performances and assume God will thank us for undertaking methods that work when, apparently, we can't trust Him to accomplish it. And suddenly that archaic passage from Isaiah is sitting in our living rooms begging for an audience.
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Basic Principles

There are voices today that bemoan the sorry state of the Church. Too many believers are fed pablum. Too many Christians don't know their own Bibles, don't know basic doctrine, don't know the simple truths of the faith. Too many Christians are "baby Christians", stunted in growth. I don't know that it's not true. But I do know that it's not new.

The author of Hebrews wrote about Christ.
In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 5:7-10)
Lots of good stuff in there. How Jesus trusted His Father. How the Father affirmed the Son. How Jesus was perfected and is "the source of eternal salvation", our "priest after the order of Melchizedek". Good stuff. Perhaps a little heady, a little "over the top", even in need of more explanation, but good stuff anyway.

The author of Hebrews understood this. Good stuff ... but it needs more explanation. He knew it, but he didn't give it. Here's why.
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14)
Welcome to the Church of the 21st century. Nothing much has changed. "By this time you ought to be teachers." You'd think, after 2,000 years, this would be the case. Every single Christian would be so well informed that there would be continuity, certainty, and depth. It's not so. It's not so because "you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God."

What are "the oracles of God"? The phrase appears in multiple places in the New Testament. Paul says, "The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God." (Rom 3:2) Peter, in explaining that we need to exercise our spiritual gifts, says, "Whoever speaks, [let him speak] as one who speaks the oracles of God." (1 Peter 4:11) Fortunately, we're not left to figure this out for ourselves. Just before this we read, "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb 4:12) Stephen, in his last sermon (Acts 7), said, "This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us." (Acts 7:38) "The oracles of God", then, is a reference to God's Word. We have that in written form today. So, what are some of the "basic principles" of the Word of God?

There are, I suppose, lots of things in that list of "basic principles". It would include God's perception of Man's sinful nature, the nature of God as He has revealed Himself to us, the fact that there is salvation only in Christ, that salvation is provided on the basis of grace through faith, these kinds of things. The list would also include other certainties like the origins of the universe in God and the final return of Christ. Fundamental to the "oracles of God" would be the centrality of God (not Man) and His glory. It would include the error of Man-based religion (Mark 7:8-9; Col 2:8). There would be a need to "rightly divide" the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). At the bottom of these "basic principles" would be the basic principle that God's Word is right (Rom 3:4) and Man's philosophy is questionable (Jer 17:9), so truth would be predicated on God and not the other way around. Values, morals, ethics, right and wrong, all this would be based on God's Word and not vice versa. The "basic principles" of the oracles of God would be that God's Word would be the standard by which everything it touches would be evaluated.

Well, of course, we're not there today any more than they were back then. We need to learn again these basic principles. We cannot stomach "solid food", but still need to relearn this stuff. Again and again. If we did have these basic principles built into our thinking, we would be able to discern, trained by constant practice, between good and evil. We're not there. We're not even close. Well, we're close to that "baby Church" back in the first century. You'd think, after all this time, things would have changed, improved, matured. Look around. It ain't necessarily so. Too much of the time "dull of hearing" describes too many people in the church. Don't let it describe you.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Religious Freedom? What's That?

California has enacted that mandatory vaccination law. "Brown, a Democrat, issued a signing statement just one day after lawmakers sent him the bill to strike California's personal belief exemption for immunizations." The reason for eliminating the personal belief exemption? "The evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community."

There you have it. The legislators and governors and courts can decide what "benefits and protects the community" and can legally remove your First Amendment rights. Sorry, too bad. Hey, you know what? We think that redefining marriage benefits the community, so we are outlawing your right to dissent. Too bad. Hey, you know what? We think that eliminating dissension benefits and protects the community, so we're outlawing your right to speak against homosexual behavior ... or abortion or premarital sex or ... you know, whatever we wish. Sorry, too bad.

No, I'm not an anti-immunization type. Not the point. And, no, no one is doing any of that. Yet.

In other news, Walmart refused to make a cake for a customer with the Confederate flag on it with the words, "Heritage, not hate.' They did make him one with the ISIS battle flag. Walmart apologized. They should not have made either. Because Christians are not allowed to abide by their First Amendment rights, but stores are perfectly free to discriminate.

Can you see your First Amendment rights circling the drain?

The Son Gives Life

In John 5 Jesus was informing His detractors about why He healed on the Sabbath. His answer was, "My Father is working until now, and I am working." (John 5:17) He went on to explain that His mode of operation was to imitate His Father (John 5:19-23). Down there at the end of this passage, Jesus says this:
"As the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will." (John 5:21)
It's a wonderful thing, really. I mean, considering "you were dead in the trespasses and sins" (Eph 2:1), "when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ" (Eph 2:5). This whole "the Son gives life to whom He will" is very good news, especially for people like us who started out spiritually dead.

It's interesting to me, then, that the response of today isn't so much marvel and gratitude, but complaint. "Hey! 'The Son gives life to whom He will', eh? So why doesn't He give life to everyone?" It's not enough that He does it at all to anyone. Somehow, He owes it to all. This is partly because of a misunderstanding of passages like 2 Peter 3:9 that seem to say that it is God's will that everyone is saved. The truth is that it is not God's will that everyone be saved, or the Son would give life to whom He will and that would include everyone. The idea is mostly due to our anthropocentric view of Christianity. It's centered on Man. It's all about us. God's ultimate goal is our happiness. Hey, He owes us that! So when He fails to come through, it is a shortcoming on His part.

This notion is at the heart of many of the objections of skeptics. God doesn't heal everyone. What's wrong with Him? "Bad things happen to good people." What's wrong with Him? People who live their lives in complete opposition to God and His authority are outraged when unpleasant things occur in their lives and they complain, "How could God allow this to happen??!!" Because it's quite clear that any good God would be most concerned about us and our pleasure.

Jesus said He gives life to whom He will and that should be good news. It should be good news because He is not obligated to give life to anyone, so if anyone is given life, it's a marvelous thing. But we know better. And He's wrong. "Gives life to dead people?" Good. But not good enough. We should be allowed to determine who that would be, and we would likely determine that it's just about everyone. If not, it should certainly be whomever decides He should include them. God as sovereign in salvation? Not acceptable. We decide.

Our rebellion goes deep. It is at the core of the problem. It is characterized as "the suppression of truth" (Rom 1:18). It is necessary to maintain our rejection of God (Rom 1:21). And while we may think we're being magnanimous to require of God that He be our magic genie who gives us everything we desire, the truth is not in us.

Good news! "The Son gives life to whom He will." We need to realize that 1) He does not will to give it to everyone, that 2) none of us deserve it, and 3) anyone that receives life from the hand of Christ does so as an act of God's unmitigated grace.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The God Who Isn't There

It used to strike me as a bit odd that John, writing to believers, ends his first epistle with "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21) It is surely an abrupt ending, but it seemed odd to me that he would be warning believers to guard themselves from idols. Odd, that is, until I figured out what an idol was.

An idol is any object that is worshiped ... who is not God, of course. The biblical term refers specifically to an "image", with "an image that is worshiped" implied. At its core, then, an idol is anything we worship that is not God but is a substitute for God.

Nothing there is particularly controversial or hard to fathom. But then you take some time to think it through, and it gets ... convicting.

We know that people can worship lots of things in place of God. There are the standard "pagan" deities, but we don't really wrestle much with worshiping Mithra or Baal. We are more into money, cars, power, fame, good looks, love, romance, other people, that kind of stuff. But we're Christians and we know the true God and we're working on the rest of it.

The problem, though, is that most of our Christian idolatry goes completely unnoticed. It occurs when we think we're actually looking at God and we're not. We're asking, "Why, God?" because God "proved Himself incapable" or "unwise" or "unloving" or something ... which is not God. We experience a difficulty or a threat and we don't respond with gratitude (1 Thess 5:16-18), but in fear ... which is not God. We commonly make the very same mistake they made over and over in the Bible. "You thought that I was just like you." (Psa 50:21) They're easy mistakes, understandable, not difficult to imagine ... and they're idolatry, a substitute for God.

It is said that there are two key things to get straight if you want to have accurate theology. You must have a true understanding of the nature of Man, and you must have a true understanding of the nature of God. It is said, further, that the only way to get a true understanding of the nature of Man is to get a true understanding of the nature of God. Us? Most of us are muddling around with self-aggrandizing ideas of what we are and a sadly watered-down version of what God is and think we're doing okay.

Suddenly, John makes a lot of sense. We have far too often a God who isn't there, a substitute image that is not God. "Little children, guard yourselves from idols."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Voting for Conservative Politicians

The National Journal has an article about "Anthony Kennedy's Long History of Protecting Gay Rights". You know who that is, right? He's the Supreme Court Justice who everyone is quoting in his remarks overthrowing marriage in America. Do you know who appointed Justice Kennedy to the court? It was President Reagan. Now, everyone keeps telling, "You need to vote for conservatives even if you don't agree with them because we need to get conservative justices in the courts." I'm not buying it.

Churchianity

Do you have to be in a church to be a Christian?

We Americans live in a mostly "religious" society--some 90% or so still believe in God in some sense or another--but we primarily serve another deity: independence. There is nothing more important than American independence. This sounds good at the surface, but aren't we supposed to be dependent? You know, like, on God? On each other? Well, we worship independence at least in name. And that, I'm pretty sure, is the reason for the growth in the "I'm spiritual, not religious" crowd. A growing number of people classify themselves as "spiritual" but not connected to any religion as such. "I'm independent," they say. "I don't need organized religion to commune with God." There is even a sizable portion of Christians who say something similar. "I believe in Jesus. I don't need a church to do that." So, do you have to be in a church to be a Christian?

On the face of it, the answer is clearly and positively "No!" With perhaps the sole exception of the Roman Catholics, Christianity teaches we are "saved by grace through faith in Christ", not by being in a church. So, no, you don't have to be in a church to be a Christian. But don't scratch the surface of that question, because you might find another layer.

What do you mean by "Christian"? If you mean "saved", that's one thing. But "Christian" normally means something ... more. It doesn't merely mean "I've escaped judgment." It means, "I'm a follower ... of Christ." We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone. As James puts it, faith without works is dead (James 2:17). For faith--faith that can save--to be alive, it has to produce something in the believer. And beyond the sense of "saved", being a Christian includes that product. What product?

The Christian ethic is largely a "one another" premise. We are to be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honor (Rom 12:10), admonish one another (Rom 15:14), through love serve one another (Gal 5:13), bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2), be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other (Eph 4:32), be subject to one another (Eph 5:21), regard one another as more important than yourselves (Phil 2:3), comfort one another (1 Thess 4:18), encourage one another (1 Thess 5:11), live in peace with one another (1 Thess 5:13), stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24), confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another (James 5:16), be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9), and clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5). And that's just a sampling. Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13:34) Beyond that, this "love one another" according to Jesus would be the singular marker of a disciple of Christ. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) (On my list above, most don't repeat, but "love one another" is commanded over and over.) That is a huge "one another" concept.

The phrase means, in its word construction, simply "one person to one other person", but it means something more in its usage and intent. When we are told to love one another, it doesn't imply "One person should love one other person." It carries with it more of a mutuality, a back-and-forth. That is, I am commanded to love my brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of whether they love me back, but they are also commanded to love me regardless of my return, so we end up with a give-and-take, a back-and-forth, a mutual exchange. For instance, in Romans 1 when Paul describes the decline of mankind into degrading passions (Rom 1:26-27), he says that "men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another." That is not "one man had a desire for another, but the other didn't return that desire." No, it's a mutual passion, what would even be termed in today's homosexual vernacular as a "mutually loving relationship" (rather than the one-way, abusive version argued by the "The Bible doesn't speak against modern homosexual relationships" types). No, one another is a mutual give and take between two people. And, it implies also "Whenever the conditions are met." That is, "Whenever I encounter any other believer, I ought to relate to them in this way and they ought to relate to me the same way." So it is both mutual and expansive.

So, back to the question. Can you be a Christian without being part of a church? You can come to faith in Christ, certainly. In that sense, the answer is yes. But can you "observe all that I commanded you" (Matt 28:20)? Since the overwhelming sense of the Christian life in Scripture is a "one another" life, the answer is no. You cannot be a healthy functioning follower of Christ without being invested in a body of Christians--a church. The modern "Lone Ranger Christian" concept doesn't fit when laid up against the biblical version of a faith that produces works predicated largely on "one another". In order to be a healthy follower of Christ, we must not forsake the gathering together of fellow believers. It just isn't Christian.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hypocrisy Illustrated

Guitarist Thurston Moore canceled a performance in Israel in April. He did it in protest of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. "To perform with my band in Israel was in direct conflict to my values," he said. Pretty sure the media and the public is going to be up in arms about this anti-Semitism and refusal to provide services to a group of people. Right? Odd. Florists, photographers, bakers and the like must perform in direct conflict to their values; musicians don't have to.

A Dangerous Luxury

We feel pretty free here in America. We have plenty of comforts and luxuries. We're doing pretty well. We get to vote on representatives and leaders and laws, even if sometimes the courts counter the people. We mostly get to decide what's good or bad. It's the luxury of a democracy. (Okay, a republic, but you know what I mean.)

For some reason, there are lots of people that seem to port that over to places it cannot go. They seem to think that truth is something to vote on. That is silly at best and dangerous at worst. They seem to think that God's views are variable and, let's be honest, might be wrong. And that's just crazy.

I've actually heard people who call themselves Christians argue that, "Oh, sure, the Bible has stuff in it like God commanding the execution of adulterers and calling homosexual behavior 'an abomination' and the like, but we know better today." Really? "We know better today"? Do you hear what that says? "Sure, it's in there, but God was wrong." In America we have the luxury of passing judgment on our leadership and our society and all. We, however, have extended that luxury to passing judgment on God.

We think we've moved on. God was okay back then ... and we really like Him and all ... but in our day we know much better. He was in error back then ordering, for instance, the stoning of a stubborn and rebellious son who cannot be disciplined (Deut 21:18-21). We know better. God said, "This is good" and "That is evil" and people thought, "Because God said it, it is true." But we know better. "Things are good or bad because ..." and we'll fill in what we think. "Because we've come to believe it's so" or "because it does 'harm' that we can recognize" or "because society says so" or the ever-popular "everybody does it." We've moved on. From God.

It's a luxury of living in a free society. But when we exercise it in the face of God, it's a dangerous luxury.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isa 5:20)
Yeah, you go ahead with that. I'm not going to sign up for that particular luxury.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Gay Marriage Ban

Just to be clear, one last time, as we wave goodbye to marriage and substitute something new and not wholly defined, but not marriage ...

For a long time I've had a "same-sex marriage" label I have applied to posts on the topic. I suppose I can retire it now. The news is announcing that "states cannot ban same-sex marriage." To be clear, no state has ever banned same-sex marriage that I'm aware of. They have defined marriage as "X" (you know ... the "X" that it has always been) and said "Anyone at all can participate in X", but no state to my knowledge has ever banned same-sex mirage (that's not a misspelling). If defining marriage as X is a ban, it is a ban on A-Z with the exception of X, not merely Q. When the news says, "Gays will be able to participate in marriage just like everyone else," they completely miss the point because they have always been able to participate in marriage like everyone else ... just not in something that has never been marriage and calling it marriage.

Having carefully, step by step in my lifetime, undercut and overturned marriage so far that there are no more foundations, we reach the end here where "everyone can participate" but we don't know in what. Polygamy (one guy marries multiple women)? Why not? Polyamory (multiple people of both genders marry)? On what basis can we say no? Why not allow marriage to a pet or a fence or yourself (it has been done)? Because we don't have a definition anymore.

The sad part, of course, is the loss of the image. While people clamor to remove the offense of the Confederate Flag and others wonder why, we have conveniently pulled down the marriage flag, a symbol of the great mystery of the relationship of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:31-32). There is controversy over removing the flag. The courts have ruled against marriage. And there is no substitute. But, of course, they won't have to answer to me for that. They'll have to answer to God. And God will not be pleased. Ask Moses about what happens when you assault the symbols God puts into place (Num 20:12).
________
Postscript: In 2003, the courts redefined marriage in Massachusetts. In 2008, the courts redefined marriage in Connecticut. In 2009, the courts redefined marriage in Iowa and Vermont; voters or the legislature changed the law in Washington DC and New Hampshire. In total, 11 states redefined marriage via voters or legislature. All the rest were forced into it by judicial action. Welcome to your democracy.
"A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy." - Justice Scalia

Post-Postscript: Can anyone tell me how this ruling "unequivocally affirmed that equal justice under the law means marriage equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans" as Pelosi said? I don't see any "marriage equality" (using their term) for bisexuals. They still only get to marry one gender. Oh, sorry, too much reality. (And for those of you who are going to object--"They can marry the person of their choice"--on what grounds do you limit it to only two people? We're still waiting for the new definitive definition of "marriage", and I can hardly wait to hear what creative basis you come up with to argue "only two".)

Update
This piece is just ... wow.

Jesus, the Friend of Sinners

The phrase is biblical. "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." (Matt 11:19) So it must be true, right? And, so, if Jesus was the friend of sinners (I'm not so sure these days we'd be willing to extend that to tax collectors), what are we doing bringing up the whole "sin issue" these days? We claim to be followers of Christ. Follow Christ. Be a glutton and a drunkard and hang out with sinners!

Of course, I'm making a leap, but so are those who don't make that leap and still call us to be "more like Christ" by being "less judgmental". It's true. Jesus Himself said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt 9:13) And that was in response to the Pharisees complaining that He was spending time with tax collectors and sinners (Matt 9:11). No question. Jesus spent time with sinners because that was why He came, He said. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." (Luke 5:31)

But here's the question. What did Jesus mean by calling Himself "a friend of sinners"? Does that mean He "buddied up", He hung around with them, shared their beer, encouraged the lifestyle and life choices of their choosing, and embraced them for who they were? That's the answer that many (most?) would give. That's not what the Bible says. When Jesus first started His ministry, He had a message. And it was not "Hey, can't we all just get along?" It was "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17) Not exactly the "friendly" message one would expect from a friend, is it? To the Samaritan woman, He called her out for her sin. "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true." (John 4:17-18) To the woman caught in adultery, He said, "Go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8:11) In fact, nowhere do we find Jesus saying, "It's alright. You can do whatever you want. I'll embrace you and your sin." Nothing like it.

I don't disagree that Jesus was a friend of sinners. He was the kind of friend that told them the truth. "You're sinners and you need help." He's the kind of friend most of us need and few of us have. A true friend. Not the false kind who tells you, "It's alright. Do what you want. I won't say anything about it." That kind of friend only gets you into trouble. And with friends like that ...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

That's Your Opinion

You'll hear it all the time. Make a statement about truth that is less than popular or somewhat controversial and someone, perhaps lots of someones, is going to say, "Well, that's your opinion." If they're kind.

What is the point of such a statement? Well, there is an unspoken thought behind it. "That's your opinion ... but, of course, you're wrong." The fact that it's generally unspoken generally means that you're also left without the benefit of reasons why you're wrong or why they're right. But the real point is the impossibility of absolute certainty. You can't absolutely know that what you said was the truth. The implied question is, "Can we know anything without a doubt?"

I find the position oddly self-refuting. That is, they will typically offer "That's your opinion" as a method of denying my position. But when they do it they are saying, "My opinion is right and yours is wrong." Which is what the complaint about me was in the first place. So they complain that I claim to know something and argue that they know I'm wrong.

When I hear "That's your opinion", what I usually hear is Pilate's sarcastic "What is truth?" It's as if the ultimate sin in this world is to be sure. So I've examined the text and context and language and looked at the historical views and read the commentaries and asked people who know and all come to the same conclusion, but ... "That's your opinion." I might even claim Jesus's words--"You shall know the truth." But, "That's your opinion." I can point out that text, context, language, orthodoxy, history, and everything else militates against your view, but, "That's your opinion." The best they can offer is, "Oh, yeah? Well, how do you know you're not wrong?" Fair question, I suppose, but I just listed the reasons. It doesn't matter. "That's your opinion" trumps logic, evidence, reason, history, everything.

It's largely because we live in a relativistic world. In this world truth is what you make of it, often merely what you feel. "Yeah, sure, every piece of physical evidence says I'm a man, but I feel like a woman, so I am." You'll find it even in some of the broad corridors of Christendom. "Yes, I know that my interpretation is different than anyone else prior to 2001 (or whatever recent date you'd like to name), but they were all wrong and I've figured it out." Why? "Because, that's my opinion. And while yours is wrong, mine is right."

It's largely because we live in a relativistic world, but there is a core problem, an underlying reason.
The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness ... 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. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man ..." (Rom 1:18, 23, 21-22)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Whom Shall I Fear?

David wrote, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psa 27:1) Like many of the Psalms, they've even turned that one into a praise song. Good stuff.

Except I'm not so sure how many believers actually believe it. "Of whom shall I be afraid?" Well, lots of people. Any sane parent would fear letting their kids go to the park without close supervision. There are dangerous predators out there. Who in their right mind would go to, say, a Muslim country where Christians are killed for their faith to preach the Gospel? You need fear to employers who don't like Christians and find out you're sharing your faith at work. You ought to be afraid if you take a public position against "gay rights" ... or even a private one. You could cause a national controversy by doing something like that. Really, just about any public (or audible) position for Christ is a dangerous stance these days and, if you're a thinker, you'll be afraid of doing that. The cost can be high. I know of one Christian who was asked as a Christian to share his concerns with a well-known television host why he was opposed to "legalizing gay marriage" (as if that is a thing). Without even bringing up biblical standards, he spoke of the problem of redefining marriage until anything could be classified as such. He was ridiculed on the air on national television and then started receiving death threats ... without even taking a Christian stance.

And that's just a start.

It would appear, then, that David was not asking a rhetorical question. I mean, it was seriously "Can someone give me a list because clearly there are a lot of people, places, and things I should fear."

Or ... not.

Perhaps our fearfulness in modern living is predicated on a lack of faith, on a less than enlightening, saving, strong God. It is said that you can know what you truly believe by what you do rather than what you say. What do your fears say about what you truly believe about God?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reading the Signs

We use the term "miracle" pretty loosely these days. It's now something amazing or perhaps even entertaining. It's not necessarily something ... miraculous. A baby being born is "a miracle", even though we can trace the process of sperm and egg through the pregnancy to produce this blend of mother and father. It's still "a miracle". The doctor whose plastic surgery techniques are highly touted can "do miracles" for you if you ask him to (and pay him enough, of course). "Miracle" used to refer to something divine, an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs. In the Bible, however, it's even something slightly different.

The Gospel of John opens with a grandiose picture of Jesus who "was with God" and "was God" (John 1:1), who is the Creator of all that is made (John 1:3), "the true light" (John 1:9). When we first meet Jesus "on the street", so to speak, it's when John the Baptist is pointing Him out to his disciples: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) From this a couple of John's disciples left to follow Christ. Philip went on to tell Nathanael that they had found the Messiah, "Jesus of Nazareth". Of course, Nathanael was a skeptic. "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" What convinced Nathanael? It was when Jesus met him and said, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." (John 1:48)

The very next story in John's Gospel is the story of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) in which Jesus famously turned water into wine. John concludes that story with, "This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him." (John 2:11) There ... see that? John didn't call it a "miracle" although it certainly was. John called it by its intent, its function. It was a genuine miracle--an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs--for the purpose of demonstrating who He was, manifesting His glory, and engendering belief.

In the very same chapter, Jesus went and drove out the money-changers from the temple (John 2:12-22). Famous story. Whip and all. Jesus was passionate about His Father's house. "His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house will consume Me." (John 2:17) When the Jews asked Him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?", He promised to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days (John 2:18-19). John explains, "But He was speaking about the temple of His body." (John 2:21) And then John says this.
When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken." (John 2:22)
In the Bible, what English calls "miracles" are viewed not merely as "divine intervention", but more at John's terms--"signs". Nicodemus saw it, for instance. His question was, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." (John 3:2) The "signs" told Nicodemus (and anyone else paying attention) that Jesus was who He said He was. It worked for God's prophets. It worked big time for Jesus. Genuine miracles were affirmation that the person doing them was from God.

So, if you are reading the signs, what was the sign of signs? What was the kicker, the end-all of signs? Which one pointed without ambiguity to something far different about Christ than any other? "When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed." There were lots of signs. Water to wine, healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding thousands with nearly nothing, walking on water. Lots of signs. But the one, the singularity that the Scriptures say made His disciples ultimately believe, was the Resurrection. (I put a capital on that word because of its magnitude.) Attested to by eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:1-8), referenced by writers of Scripture as well as extra-biblical authors such as Josephus, Tacitus, and others, an event on which the eyewitnesses based their lives and even deaths, this key sign is the end of the question. He wasn't a mere man. He wasn't a mere prophet. He wasn't a misunderstood crusader. He was God Incarnate who died for our sins and His rising again from the dead was the sign that demonstrated it.

Could it be that this simple fact is the reason that there are so many who dispute the Resurrection?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Democratic Religion

I know a lady who is a devout Roman Catholic. She is divorced, so she is not really in good standing with the church. And she has met a guy she would like to marry, but the church doesn't allow remarriage, so she's living with him instead. She told me, "I think the church needs to change its position on divorce."

It is popular in the media to hear of those (loud) voices calling for the church to change its views on homosexual behavior and other sexual sins. Many have argued that Pope Francis has changed the Catholic view on marriage, divorce, and homosexuality. If not, it needs to happen. The argument is that the church will be on "the wrong side of history" if we don't come up to speed on this stuff.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hopes to "change deep-seated religious beliefs" on the subject of abortion. The Atlantic had an article entitled Can the UN Change the Church's Views on Abortion and Gay Rights?. It is a given. Christianity in its biblical form is at odds with the world. The solution is that Christianity needs to change.

Why can't I have a religion I can vote on? You know, "I don't like this doctrine, so can we take a vote?" It would be so much "friendlier". We could vote on same-sex marriage and, if we don't like the outcome, we can wait a year and vote again and we should get what we want eventually. We could petition and lobby and come up with all sorts of cool stuff. Things like extra religious holidays and such. Avoid those things we don't like--like rules against doing whatever we want with sex or being forced to learn ancient religious truths--and enjoy the things we do like--whatever suits our fancy. We can do away with that whole archaic notion of "truth" because everyone knows it doesn't count anymore and we could get along with everyone. Well, not everyone, I guess. There would still be those hardliners that would say, "This is God's Word and God's Word doesn't change." There would be those with moral compasses and moral principles and moral consciences that would argue that God is right and anything opposed to God is not right. But we could vote that we like God and are, therefore, not opposed to Him and it would all be okay.
Certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)

These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, "In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions." It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:16-23)
Jude must have been reading the Internet. Divisions, he says, are caused by "worldly people" operating on "their own ungodly passions", "their own sinful desires." Expect it. They are among us. They "pervert the grace of our God into sensuality." Why can't I have a religion I can vote on? Because it results in denying "our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." We don't get to vote on what the Master says. Nor do our desires matter, except as self-condemnation.

The answer is not to demand our rights, call for a vote, or militate against the foe. It is "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3) But even that isn't as much by argument or battle, but by living Christ. That contending for the faith is primarily "building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh." Because a faith that is argued is open for disputation, but a faith that is lived is irrefutable.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Whatever the Father Does

In John 5 Jesus stirred up the Jews by telling them that God was His Father. They (rightly) understood that to mean that He was equal with God (John 5:16). In order to clear up the question, He said,
"Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He Himself is doing." (John 5:19-20)
As you see, this didn't "clear up the question"; it affirmed their conclusions. As He said later, "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30)

It's interesting to me, on this Father's Day, to note that Jesus recognized that He was doing what He saw the Father doing. And so do we. Kids with fathers who weren't there are often parents who aren't there. Kids with drunken or abusive fathers often end up drunken and abusive. Even when we are repelled by a bad father, we end up linked to him by the focus on the bad father and, perhaps avoiding the overt behaviors we hate, end up mimicking the character and attitudes. Like Jesus, we see what our fathers are doing and do likewise.

This can be good or bad. Good fathers give us good things to imitate. Bad fathers leave us bad things to imitate. Even absent fathers tell us something about how to live. It can be good or bad in another sense. Given a really good father, it becomes a real challenge to live up to that standard. Now, Jesus didn't have any difficulty, being God Incarnate, but for me it's not as easy. I have one of those fathers with long strides--hard to follow in his footsteps.

Dad always goes to church. It cannot be otherwise. Not like today's younger Christians who can hit or miss when something "more important" comes up. Dad has a high view of church. None of this syncretism, merging worldly views and approaches and styles with Christian views and values. Dad has a strong work ethic. In his '80's and technically retired, he thinks it would be bad to actually retire--do nothing. He needs to be doing: helping neighbors, encouraging believers, involving himself in the lives of any who enters his sphere of influence. Dad has a firm set of beliefs built on Scripture. None of this relativism built on "how I feel" or "well, we know better today." This is the kind of thing I have to live up to if I'm going to imitate my father as Jesus imitated His. Increasingly in the face of our society, I am going to have to stand as my father does on biblical principle with self-discipline and courage.

It's Father's Day. I want to tell my readers how blessed I am to have the father God gave me. I want to say "thank you" to my father. Dad, you set a fine example to follow. And I want to thank my Father in heaven. It is He who gave me my father. And it is He who will enable me to imitate my father (Phil 2:13). I guess He has His work cut out for Him.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Blogiversary, 2015

In June of 2006 I decided to take on the task of writing where someone besides myself could see it. They call it a "blog", short for "weblog". I set myself a goal of writing one a day. As of June 18, I've published 3,364 entries. Let's see ... let's do the math. June 20, 2006 to June 20, 2015 is 3,288 days. I have missed a day or two. I've made up for it. I think I've accomplished that goal.

That's one number. To me, some of the other numbers are mind-numbing. Since they started keeping track (because they didn't start until May of 2010) I've had nearly 400,000 page views. The leader in views is the Hard Sayings entry on "Sell all your possessions" because, of course, this is a bit difficult for any questioning Christian and a gold mine for any skeptic. "It says it. Why aren't you doing it?" There are nearly 17,000 hits on that page alone. Far behind at #2 with only 10,000 hits is "The History of the Choir" which I can only fancy is due to music students doing research because why in the world would anyone want to look up that topic? Third place is a mere 1100 or so on the puritans and whether or not they were puritanical. To me, those are huge numbers. In any given month I'll get more than 5,000 views. It's odd because for the last couple of months there hasn't hardly been a single article with more than 50 views on its own, so those 5,000 are looking at something ... I just don't know what. But you're looking, and that's amazing.

Another interesting number is the number 1. In all these years I have had to ban one and only one commenter. I've had a large variety of folks saying a large variety of things. Questions, agreement, praise, distaste, disagreement, outrage, the whole gamut of comments. But only one consistent violator of the rule and, happily, only one who isn't welcome here anymore. I know, I know, there are those who will suggest I only allow supporters to comment. But the facts don't bear that out.

Perhaps most interesting to me is the numbers of emails I get on the side. No, not large numbers. No, not big names. It's that occasional "out of the blue" email that says, "I just read your article on ____ and I just wanted to thank you. It blessed me." Those are the ones. The ones that say, "It blessed me" or "It made me think" or "I had never seen that before." The ones who were nudged by God through my little efforts here. Truthfully, I don't know very many of them at all. They aren't friends I've known or family members or the like. They're strangers cruising the Internet with a search engine looking for ... I don't know, "the history of the choir" or "submit" or "ego te absolvo" and come across something I wrote, and God uses it, rough tool as it is, without me even knowing it.

I've considered from time to time ending this. But it's that last piece of information that prevents me. I don't know. I don't know who is reading it, what the effect is, or how God will use it. So I start into my 10th year with less than 50 people per day reading my daily entries but far more reading stuff I don't know they're reading. Maybe, just maybe, I got something right and maybe, just maybe, God can use it for their benefit and His glory. So, tomorrow is Day One of the Year 10 of this and I'll see how He leads me from there.

To you readers, thanks. I appreciate your time. I hope you're blessed or challenged or both.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Do You Validate?

There's a shopping center there and you need to run in and pick something up. The parking, however, is regulated. You could end up paying for parking. But that's okay. As long as you visit a business there, the parking is free. You will likely ask the person behind the counter of the store you go to, "Do you validate?" That's because validating a parking ticket means you won't have to pay.

There was a time when people wanted absolution. The conversation in the confessional at the Catholic church begins with, "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned" and ends with "Ego te absolvo"--I absolve you. Christians offer "forgiveness of sins" in getting right with God. And the standard mantra is "To err is human." That was then. This is now. It is no longer about forgiveness or absolution. It's about validation.

Validation is the process of establishing the legitimacy of something. It is a sanctioning of something. It is the opposite of absolution. Absolution says, "That was wrong, but we'll make it right." Validation says, "It's right and anyone who disagrees is wrong." It is the process that begins with the assumption that not everyone agrees this is valid and then sets out to demonstrate that it is.

People are, for the large part, no longer seeking absolution. They're seeking validation. If you love someone, you will validate them. That means you will assure them that everything questionable about their lives--their feelings, their ideas, their morals, their penchants, their foibles, their dreams and desires--are all good, at least with you. This version of validation is "non-judgmentalism". It seeks to only speak positively. It says, "You are not bad or wrong or crazy."

That appears to be the point with the push for redefining marriage to include couples of the same sex. Estimates put the marriage rate of homosexuals in Massachusetts after it became legal at under 17%. In the Netherlands, where it has been legal for a long time, the rates are somewhere between 2-6%. Nowhere near the 51% of adults (which is a marked decline from, say, 1920 when it was 92.3% or 1960 when it was 72%). This drive to overthrow traditional marriage (and it doesn't matter if you agree with me about the definition of the term, "marriage"--everyone recognizes that it is a change to "traditional marriage") in favor of this newer version appears not to be about getting married. It appears to be more about validation. "We'll call what we do 'marriage' and that will tell everyone that our lifestyle is valid--good, acceptable, valued."

It is the point of the whole new definition of "tolerance". Once it was allowing to continue that with which you disagreed. Now it is the demand to embrace that with which you disagree. It's not wrong; it's good. We need to validate what we deemed wrong. (Oddly enough, no one is allowed to validate Christianity for disagreeing with others on moral issues.)

I think the motivation for validation is the same as the drive for absolution. We know there's something wrong. One version says, "Okay, it's wrong. How do I make it right?" The other version says, "Declare it right and I won't have to think it's wrong." It is the latter that is growing in popularity. And the former is being called "hate speech". Sad that God's Word would be classified as "hate speech", sometimes by those who classify themselves as God's followers.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stand

In the third chapter of Daniel we read about Daniel's three buddies, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They ran afoul of the king's advisors because, well, they were wise and reliable and good and that would never do. So when the king built a statue and ordered people to bow when they heard the music, it was these advisors that "came forward and maliciously accused the Jews." (Dan 3:8) The king, furious, asked the three if it was true. He would avoid tossing them into the fire if they would just bow down. They said, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Dan 3:16-18) Well, you know the rest of that story. The king tossed them into a fire that killed the guys that tossed them in and was stunned to see four, not three men, all walking around in the fire. They came out unhurt, only the bindings burned off and without even a hair singed or the smell of fire on them (Dan 3:27).

These three guys stood rather than bowed. They refused to worship the god of the day. (Is there a more appropriate definition of Nebuchadnezzar's image?) And they were tossed in the fire for it. The king ended up promoting them. A happy ending. But I see a parallel. Today, we are told to bow to the god of the day. Oh, and there is more than one. There is the god of science which, unable to test for God, has determined He doesn't exist (as if that makes sense) and if you don't bow to that deity, you're facing fire. There is the god of sexual promiscuity--heterosexual and homosexual. If you don't bow to that deity, you're can expect fire. There is the god of moral relativism. Bow or burn. There is even the god of power, be it political or popularity. Surrender or die.

I want you to note the position these three guys took when they faced their actual fiery furnace. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace," they told the king, "but if He doesn't, be it known to you that we will not serve your gods." Christian, God can deliver you from the fire society is offering you if you don't bow to the god of the day. (Oh, and trust me, if you stand there like those three did, they will "maliciously accuse" you.) God can and even might spare you as He did them. He might not. You need to decide if deliverance is more important than doing what is right. Bow to science against God's Word or surrender God's commands on sexual morality and everything else right or wrong in this world, or stand and be counted, even at great threat and possible pain. Your call.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Narcissus in the 21st Century

You remember the tale of Narcissus. Narcissus (from Greek mythology) was a hunter who was known for his good looks. He loved himself so much that he disdained others who loved him. One such person was Echo, the mountain nymph. She attempted to embrace him, but he rebuffed her and she ended up alone and vanishing, leaving nothing but an echo. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, heard about it and lured Narcissus to a pool where he saw his own reflection. Narcissus fell in love with it, realized eventually his love would never be returned, and committed suicide.

Jump to the 21st century. Where is Narcissus today?

You've seen him on Facebook and Instagram, posting so many selfies that Real California Milk made a joke about it. You'll encounter him on the freeway, the guy (or girl) who decides that the lane you're in is now his/hers and the speed you're going is irrelevant; you'll have to adjust to suit him/her. She's the one texting at 60 mph while weaving from lane to lane because "this is important" (and you're not). He's the one who decided that he needed to turn right instead of left and should certainly be allowed to cross four lanes of traffic in 10 feet to get there. She's in the grocery store, looking for that one particular brand of olives with her cart sideways in the aisle. Oh, you can't get through? No problem; you can wait. He's the kid who decides to cross the street here because this is where he is and right there is where he wants to go and traffic will stop, so they don't require a second thought. The 21st century Narcissus doesn't even notice that no one else matters. Nor does he notice when you do something nice for him because, after all, you ought to have done that for him. She doesn't notice when you open the door for her or let him into your lane of traffic or change lanes to get out of their way. Conversely, he would never think to do the same for anyone else.

This, of course, is not new to the 21st century, even if we've managed to expand the opportunities of self-expression for the 21st century Narcissus. No, it's not new, nor is it rare. It is human. It is a product of the self-centered Natural Man. So it's not a surprise. It is a problem when it is Christians immersed in this. Narcissus was in love with himself. We are commanded to love others as we love ourselves (Matt 22:39). We are commanded to "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Phil 2:3-4)

Yes, Narcissus was in love with himself. It is human nature, in fact. It cost Narcissus love and life. It will do the same for us. We are told to love God first and love others second. If we, as Christians, embody the 21st century Narcissus, we are not acting as Christians. We are acting as our sinful, self-centered world acts. And we might just reap the same reward that Narcissus did for doing so.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

They're Not Doing Any Harm

Have you heard that one? Maybe it's a parent. The kids are somewhere you've told them not to be. Your spouse says, "Oh, leave them alone. They're not doing any harm." More often it's a question of morality. "Why outlaw marijuana? It's not doing any harm." Self-professed Christians will throw this at Christians who see God's Word as the final authority on right and wrong. "Why do you go on about how homosexual behavior is a sin? They're not doing any harm." Like the whole Bruce Jenner/Josh Duggar thing. "Come on! Caitlyn" (because they will always fall into that mold) "isn't doing anyone any harm. That Josh Duggar sure did!" That's why, you see, it's right to castigate Duggar but wrong to call Jenner a sinner for his decision to refuse to accept the gender God made him (Gen 1:27). But is that true? Is it true that they're not doing any harm?

I think of the condition of marriage these days. Statistics tell us that marriage is on the decline. In 1960, 72% of adults were married; in 2010, that number was 51%. Divorce rates are high, but more and more people are simply putting off--sometimes permanently--getting married. It's not the goal or the given it used to be. Why is that? Well, a big part of it is the full acceptance of sex outside of marriage. You know, the whole ugly, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" They're not doing any harm, right? Another big part of it is the divorce rate. People decided they were unwilling to keep their commitment of "'til death do us part" and vacated their marriages. They did no harm, right? Except that their example affects marriage. Part of it is growing numbers of unmarried couples who live together in sin. Oh, sorry, who live together without the benefit of marriage. Almost a quarter of those between 25 and 34 who have never been married are living with a partner. They're doing no harm, right? Except that their example affects marriage. That's just one illustration.

Parents do things that "aren't harming anybody", but their actions serve as teaching tools that lead their kids to do the same sinful behaviors. The media shows stuff for education and entertainment. They're "not harming anybody". But their message encourages others to sin. And so it goes.

Consider this. Jesus said, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!" (Matt 18:6-7) Not doing any harm? Yes, it may look like it. But when your words or deeds encourage someone else to sin, it is certainly causing harm. And Jesus says that's a bad thing.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Training

Recent studies have indicated that kids, particularly high school and college age kids, are suffering from excessive stress. Further, the primary cause, they say, of this stress is "helicopter parents". Psychologist Chris Meno said that "over-involved 'helicopter parenting' is taking a serious toll on the psychological well-being of college students."

Over against that we have Christian parents who are working hard to keep their kids from the evil influences of public schools and the Internet and television and the like. They believe that shielding their kids from this stuff is the best approach. They are their own version of "helicopter parents".

"But," one might say, "aren't we supposed to do that?" Well, if you think about it, Solomon's wise "Train up your children in the way they should go" (Prov 22:6) is not the same thing as "Keep your kids away from evil influences." We are not commanded to "shelter your family from outside forces", but to "teach them diligently" (Deut 6:4-7). The orders issued from the top are to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4), not to make sure that no sinful pressures be allowed to be brought to bear on your family.

I think, in fact, that this is precisely where we have gone astray in modern American Christian parenting. Some are not working at it at all. Others are working hard to shelter their kids. But how many are teaching their kids? How many are filling their children's minds with the truth, with the weapons of spiritual warfare, with the Word of God? How many make it their daily practice to speak of these things "when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deut 6:7)? Jesus told us to make disciples, "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt 28:20) How many parents are doing that?

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to suggest that parents are negligent. I think that they were never taught, that their experiences, if it was Christian at all, were much closer to today's version of "avoidance" rather than "diligent teaching". It was, in fact, Eve's approach in the garden. When the serpent asked what God had commanded, she said, "God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" (Gen 3:3) No, He didn't. No word of "touching". That was Eve's method. Not "What was the command?" or "What was the significance?", but avoidance. "Don't touch." And Eve illustrates the effectiveness of such an approach. It fails.

The truth is your kids are little sinners, born that way. Sure, they need godly protection. But, more importantly, they need godly training. They need godly discipline. They need godly influence. They need godly examples. And what they really need is a change of heart, something parents cannot supply. We can only train and pray, not change them. That's God's job. However, I can tell you that offering avoidance and not training is not a useful method of addressing a problem the size of your kids' sin nature.

So don't be a "helicopter parent". And don't be an absent parent. Make your kids disciples. Teach them. Discipline them. Train them. And, oh, by the way, if you're not trained yourself, you might need to address that issue, too. We are not told "Help a child avoid ungodly influences and when he is old he will not depart." No. Training is required. It is commanded by God. It is a God-given responsibility of parents. We ought to act on what we are told.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Forgiven?

In Psalm 18 David writes something a little unnerving.
The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. (Psa 18:20)
Wait a minute! "My righteousness"? Wasn't it David who wrote, "The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one" (Psa 14:2-3)? Wasn't it God who warned, "Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, 'Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land'" (Deut 9:4)? What do you mean that He "rewarded me according to my righteousness"?

Christianity, at its core, is about divine forgiveness. We know that. We know the basic argument. All have sinned. Sin deserves death. We can have forgiveness from sin by faith in Christ. Easy.

It's true, but incomplete.

In a verse that really upsets pro-homosexual "Christians" Paul states quite clearly, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" (1 Cor 6:9) (It upsets them because Paul includes homosexual behavior in the list of "the unrighteous".) There is a problem here. Paul doesn't say that the unforgiven will not inherit the kingdom of God. He says the unrighteous. The problem with the notion that we can have forgiveness from sin by faith in Christ is not that it's not true, but that it's not enough. We not only need a clean slate. We need righteousness. We not only need to eliminate the debt. We need to have positive equity, so to speak.

As it turns out, the Old and New Testaments agree on this topic. There is a source for righteousness. And it's not you or me.

David wrote that part about "my righteousness", but he also wrote this one. "Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Be gracious to me and hear my prayer." (Psa 4:1) Ah, see? There it is. Jeremiah wrote, "In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, 'The LORD our righteousness.'" (Jer 23:6) There it is again! Perhaps Paul said it most clearly. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor 5:21)

Are you forgiven? Good. Good, but not enough. What you need is righteousness. And, unable to acquire that ourselves, God has made it possible in His Son. He granted forgiveness by grace through faith and He Himself is our righteousness. We are more than forgiven.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A New World A'Comin'

Fascinating article from Steve McAlpine about "Exile". He speaks of "Exile Stage One" which began a few decades ago when Christians started noting that the world was passing us by. So they set about thinking of ways to avoid becoming irrelevant. Enter what he calls "Exile Stage Two". The title of the article is "Stage Two Exile: Are You Ready for It?" And he makes some excellent points.

He points to the efforts he and others put into the first stage and then gives a detailing of the errors of that effort.

1. We Assumed Athens, not Babylon

In Athens, it was intellectualism. "Let's talk about this." In Babylon, it was exile. Athens considers the possibilities and evaluates. Babylon summarily relegates to the dungeon.

2. We Assumed a Neutral Culture, Not a Hostile World

The idea is that we have a "blank slate" world that we can influence, convince, convert. The world, however, is not a "blank slate". The Bible says the world hates Christ and His followers.

3. We Loosened Our Language Just When the Cultural Elites Were Tightening Theirs

In order to reach the culture, we eased up on "sin" and "wrong" and other "offensive" words, enabling the anti-Christian world to steal them, subvert them, and feed them back poisoned. For instance, Christianity no longer has "archaic" or "strange" sexual ethics, we now have "bad", even "sinful" ones. (Think about it. How many times of late have you heard that a biblical stance that homosexual behavior is sin is called "evil", even "sinful" from self-professed Christians?)

Well, of course, McAlpine's article is much longer than this and much fuller than this, but it rings of reality and bears a reasonable warning of what we might expect in the near future. We've enjoyed primacy for a long time in many quarters. Are you ready for exile? Read his article and see what you think.

(Note: In the comments Steve is asked if he's warning of dire persecution. He specifically states that he is not. Lest you think he is overstating.)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Are You Talking to Me?

Who do I write to?

Not Matthew Vines[1], Brian McClaren[2], John Shuck[3], or Dan Trabue[4]. These people are convinced. There is no convincing otherwise. It's not as if "Stan is speaking so we're not listening", but I'm pretty sure none of these (types of) people would read what I write, examine the evidence and logic, smack their foreheads, and say, "Well, would you look at that? I've been wrong all along. Thanks for that, Stan."

Not the anti-theist or the pro-LGBTIQA[5], the militant, the hard-nosed skeptic. Not the radical feminists or the pro-choicers (which is the favorite self-applied label of the pro-abortion types). Not the "liberal" Christian (who, as it turns out, usually isn't very generous at all) or the "progressive" types (as if "change" = "progress" ... and it's always good). Not those who are opposed to my beliefs and can't be bothered with facts because they know they're right.

I'm not writing for the convinced. I'm not writing against the opposition. I'm writing for the questioning. "You know," the theoretical person I'm writing for might say, "I think I believe that homosexual behavior is a sin (or that the Bible is true or that conservative Christianity is right or ...), but I have a few questions. I've heard some things that disturbed me. I've read some things on the Internet that disagree. Is there a reason to continue to believe that the Bible is true (or whatever the question is)?" I like the "You know, I never saw it that way before; that makes sense" response. Even the "That's something to think about" outcome is good.

Convincing an antagonist is not in the cards. That's not my job. That's not my aim. Getting "well received", "on the right side of history", or making converts isn't the point. Why? Because "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Eph 6:12) It's not about a Matthew Vines or a Richard Dawkins. I'm not called to sway anyone; I'm called to "make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:15) I'm not commanded to persuade opponents; I'm commanded to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3)

Are you among the "convinced Stan is wrong" crowd? That's okay. I'm tolerant[6] . I'm not going to petition the government to shut you down, visit your blog to explain your error, or make it my calling to correct anyone who might be tempted to listen to you. Not my job. I'm just trying to "admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all." (1 Thess 5:14)

In case you were confused about my aims and my intended audience.
________
[1] Matthew Vines is a self-identified "gay Christian", an activist known for his lengthy YouTube video about why the Bible is pro-gay. He has authored God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships and runs an organization he calls "The Reformation Project" where he aims to "reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity."

[2] Brian McClaren was a leading voice in the Emergent Church movement and continues to be a speaker, an author, and an "ecumenical global networker". He stresses innovation and is best known for his book, A Generous Orthodoxy, in which he essentially embraces all beliefs as "orthodox", and A New Kind of Christianity in which he deconstructs that silly old belief that the Bible is authoritative or even "God-breathed", but inspired and inspiring and apparently the Church prior to his day never got it right.

[3] John Shuck is a minister-in-good-standing for the Presbyterian Church (USA) who is a self-professed atheist. He believes that the Bible is a mere human book, that "God" is a symbol, that most of the stories about a "Jesus" were mythical--he certainly wasn't born from a virgin or rose from the dead or anything like that--and not only denies explicitly that there is such a thing as "orthodoxy", but believes it is his effort to encourage Christians to leave any such beliefs.

[4] Dan is a well-known figure for many of my readers. He's just listed here because, like the rest, he's convinced and no amount of dialog, evidence, reason, or discussion will move him.

[5] This acronym is not my made up version--LGBTLMNOP. It is an actual one used by the "pro" crowd. See for yourself.

[6] This, for the generally confused of our day, is the definition of "tolerance". It is not today's "I embrace you and your beliefs", but "I disagree with you and your beliefs, but I won't stop you."

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

You know Tony Campolo, right? Pretty big name, actually. He was the spiritual advisor to President Clinton, an author, a speaker, evangelist, and a well-known "evangelical left". He was the subject of a heresy hearing in 1985 because of some of his assertions in his book, A Reasonable Faith. Because of the book, Campus Crusade for Christ and Youth for Christ cancelled his speaking engagements with them. He was found to be "naive" and "incautious", but not heretical. Now he has come out of the closet, so to speak. He has called for "the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church."

Well, of course, none of it has any biblical backing. I mean, he doesn't offer any explanation as to why, in his "countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil", he decided that the Church has always been wrong on this topic and the Bible does not say what it repeatedly says on the morality of homosexual behavior or the meaning of marriage. So why does he say he changed his mind?

It's interesting, first, why he said he was opposed before. He was always "somewhat ambiguous", he says, and believed that being ambiguous on the question helped him serve as "a bridge person" between homosexuals and Christians. So why change? Well, a key reason is his wife. She always favored same-sex unions and she encouraged him to do the same. Besides, he knows so many nice "gay Christian couples". Well, that should be good enough to convince anyone. Besides, we were always wrong on that whole "keep women out of leadership" issue, weren't we? Why not this one, too?

Campolo ends with, "I hope what I have written here will help my fellow Christians to lovingly welcome all of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters into the Church." I sincerely hope that what he has written won't serve to encourage "the least of these" to fall into temptation, deny Scripture, jettison the Church, or encourage further sin. I'm afraid that's a slim hope.
"Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!" (Matt 18:5-7)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Great White Throne Judgment

Did you ever see The Final Cut? It was set in the future where everyone (almost everyone) has memory implants that record everything you ever did. Robin Williams plays a "cutter", someone who goes through those records when you die and makes a "final cut" of your life to give comfort and lasting memories for those who survive you. Of course, given the "uncut" version, with all its hidden sins, perversions, activities, and all, this can be quite a daunting task. In this movie, the person Williams was hired to produce a final cut for a guy who had less than stellar memories to cull through. It wasn't pretty.

The Great White Throne Judgment, as it is commonly called, happens at the end of this existence. It's outlined at the end of the Revelation.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:11-15)
Now, I was told that Christians wouldn't be there for that judgment. We had a different one to face, but not that one. Why? Well, of course, because those at that judgment would be judged "according to their deeds." And we know that we are not. After having read the account, however, I have to say that I must disagree.

Notice, first, that the attendants were "the dead, the great and the small." Unless believers are not included in "the dead", I have to think we'll be there. But there is more. If you read it, you'll see that the final determination is not deeds, but "the book of life." "If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Now, if Christians (those whose names are written in the book of life) are not present, this is a moot point, isn't it? I mean, if this judgment is solely about those who are not in the book of life, why mention it at all? What is the meaning of the "if"? No, I think that we'll be there. And I think that the final determination of our eternal abode is not our deeds, but whether or not our name is written in that book.

I was always told that we wouldn't be there. Christians had their own "judgment seat", where they would be sized up for rewards, not condemnation. You'll find that in 2 Corinthians. There we read, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (2 Cor 5:10) This is an addition to the 1st Corinthians commentary where Paul said, "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." (1 Cor 3:12-15) Well, look at that. As it turns out we will be required to give account of our deeds. In fact, we can "suffer loss" in that judgment, even though we are "saved, yet so as through fire."

I think that there is one judgment. I think that we will be at the Great White Throne Judgment. I think that those whose names are written in the book of life will avoid the lake of fire and those who are not will be thrown in to the lake of fire. I think that we will be rewarded for our deeds done for Christ and lose out on our "good works" that were not done for Christ. Same judgment.

Here's the thing. That Great White Throne Judgment is ... unnerving. Not because I fear damnation. I'm just thinking of all the things that I don't want my mom or my dad or my wife or my boss or my friends or ... a lot of people to know that I've done, that I'm ashamed of. Like The Final Cut, there is stuff I don't ever want known. In fact, the thoughts, the words, the motives, the actions--there is stuff I don't want to know. And all of that will be displayed on that day. Now, sure, my Advocate (1 John 2:1) will assure the court that "It is finished"--paid in full. That's not it. I just don't want to keep amassing those kinds of things that need to be paid for. I can clear my Internet history. I have no way to clear my own. I may have the book of life issue taken care of, but I need to be more careful about what goes in those other books.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

No Condemnation

People like John 8--the story of the woman caught in adultery. They like it because Jesus doesn't judge the woman. And neither should we. We should, in the words of the most popular Bible verse of the day, "Judge not."

As it turns out, this isn't quite accurate.

The word, judge, means "to form an opinion or conclusion about." It doesn't necessarily include a sentence phase. It means at its core to discriminate in the sense of telling the difference. The word used in Matt 7:1 is κρίνω--krinō. It means to distinguish. "Condemn", on the other hand, isn't quite the same. It means "to express complete disaproval; to sentence someone to punishment." In John 8:11 the word is κατακρίνω--katakrinō. You can see that it is connected to the Matthew 7 word, but not the same. It means to judge against.

So, which did Jesus do in the John 8 story? They tell me He did neither. I disagree. In John 8:11 He says, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." The question was "Should we stone her?" (John 8:4-6). Stoning would be condemning. Jesus didn't condemn her, didn't sentence her to punishment, didn't judge against her. But He did judge her. He told her, "From now on sin no more." That is, "You have sinned; don't do it anymore."

The world wants us to shut up about sin. They try to point to Jesus for that. It just doesn't work.