Friday, December 19, 2014

Marriage Devolution

Devolution. It is perhaps a reference to a sovereign power granting authority to a lower level or it is a reference to a decline. You know, like the opposite of evolution.

It is rather hard, in my estimation, to trace through the decline of marriage that we see today. The New York Times reported that "The divorce surge is over, but the myth lives on." Turns out that divorce rates are dropping but no one is buying it. We still cling to myths like "50% of marriages end up in divorce." Then Kay Hymowitz of Time followed that with "Divorce rates are falling, but marriage is still on the rocks." Why? "When divorce rates skyrocketed in the 1970s, Americans were not simply suddenly looking at their spouses and deciding en masse that they couldn't take it anymore. They were reacting to a changing understanding about what marriage meant." Wow! That's quite an insight. "Instead of an arrangement largely centered around providing for and rearing the next generation, it was becoming an adult-centric union based on love and shared happiness, which as an upper middle class grew in size, became closely linked to granite countered kitchens, European and spa vacations, and weddings with 200 guests."

I think Kay has something there. Note her view. The initial breakdown occurred when marriage was no longer essentially defined as "providing for and rearing the next generation." What replaced it? "Love and shared happiness." Real insight.

Trace this, then. In earlier times marriages were determined by families, not by individuals so much. "Arranged marriages" was the term, the one that sends shudders down the spines of most modern folk. Even today some cultures indulge this barbaric practice. The Puritans argued that love and marriage went together, but not that the first preceded the second. When you thought you could love, then you married. And you loved after you were married. Kind of turns the whole "married for love" concept on its ear, doesn't it? But by the 20th century we were all pretty sure that the only good basis for marriage was one based on warm, sappy feelings that everyone knows never last because that makes the most sense. Not that whole "love by choice" concept ... you know, like the one presented in Scripture. (You can't command husbands to love their wives if it cannot be something chosen any more than you can command someone to like Brussels sprouts.)

Well, then, enter contraceptives, thoroughly disdained up until the mid 20th century, and not just by Roman Catholics. Any well-brought-up individual knew that marriage was for reproduction and it just wouldn't be natural to aim to do something else. But contraception was "in" by the 60's. A chink in the armor of that protected marital sex appeared.

Soon thereafter, we had "free love". By which they meant "have sex with whomever you wanted". Not that love had anything to do with it. A confusion of tongues is all. "Love" and "sex" were regarded as synonyms even though they meant different things and everyone knew it. That's okay. Don't bother us with facts; we know we're right. I mean, as long as you have contraceptives and can avoid pregnancy, you are less likely be found out and bear the stigma of sex outside marriage, so, why not? It's only bad if you get caught, right? In 1973 the famous Roe v Wade ruling legalized the murder of babies in the womb. This was contraception taken to the next logical stage. If you can't get the contraception thing right and you are still insisting on decoupling sex from marriage and reproduction, then this is the perfect means of doing so.

Another chink appeared. At the end of the 60's California passed its "no fault divorce" law. Other states followed suit. In 1980 for every woman that filed for divorce from her husband 600 men filed for divorce from their wives. "No fault" coupled with radical feminism meant that in a single decade the ratio was 12:1 ... in reverse. For every man who filed 12 women did. Today two-thirds of all divorces are filed by wives.

Okay so where are we? Marriage was designed to be a union for life of a man and a woman for the purposes of mutual assistance and fellowship, for godly offspring, and for defense against sin. Now we've disconnected ... well ... everything. It isn't about mutual assistance or fellowship. It isn't about offspring, godly or otherwise. It isn't about sin. What's that? It isn't even about love. What's that? It's about my happiness and your success or failure to provide it. Nothing more. We reinforce this stereotype with the media that pops up almost daily it feels like with another dysfunctional actor or musician or entertainment figure proving that divorce is, once again, the answer. The most common question about Hollywood marriages is, "What? They're still together?" Divorce is statistically in decline, but more kids have single parents because more parents don't marry. Cohabitation is the norm. And kids pay the price. But that's okay, because marriage and family isn't about them, right?

So there is no surprise as we step off into this brave new world that marriage seems to have very little in the way of definition, purpose, or form. Homosexual marriage? Why not? The word doesn't mean much. I suppose you can use it to mean "marriage", or "dinner", or "my favorite movie." I mean, why not? We're not really keen on defining things anymore as long as we get what we want ... whatever that is.

There are two things in all this that strike me. First, if this is an accurate representation of the spiral of marriage, then it would be wrong--ridiculous--to say, "Homosexuals are ruining marriage." Actually, they're just grabbing on to the tatter rags of a wonderful tapestry no longer maintained or even understood and finally getting ready to throw it away. They didn't thrash it; we did. The other interesting thing, again if this is an accurate representation, is that the beginning of this unraveling of marriage ... was the notion that we marry for love. Now, understand that this "love" and, say, "Husbands, love your wife" are not the same "love". The former is a warm feeling that makes me feel good; the other is a settled decision to provide what is best to another. Clearly not the same. So if marriage is correctly defined as a lifelong union of a man and a woman for the purposes of mutual assistance and fellowship, for godly offspring, and for defense against sin, the first step that makes it about me instead of "you" and "us" and "them"--your spouse, the union that is this marriage, and the offspring of this union--is clearly the first step away from the meaning of marriage. Ironic that it's a warm feeling that starts this snowball rolling. Devolution. The right term.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Two Sons

"A man had two sons." (Luke 15:11)
So begins one of Jesus's best known parables, the Prodigal Son.

The man had two sons. Now, I had two sons, so I can relate. But anyone with kids can relate, I'm fairly sure. Because this dad had a good kid and a bad kid. That must have been tough. The bad one--the younger--asked for his inheritance before it was due. So his dad gave it to him. And he set off to start a business, give to the poor, and ... oh, wait, no. I like the biblical phrase: "He squandered his estate with loose living." And not at home. No. He ran off.

What was dad thinking? "What will become of my dear, sinful son?" "What did I do wrong?" "Is there hope for him?" We don't know. We do know that he was always looking for his precious boy. We know that because after the younger hit bottom and found himself coveting pig food and finally realizing, "I could eat better as my father's slave," as he went home to do just that, we read "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20). Dad was waiting and watching.

Dad didn't meet the younger with recriminations. "Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found." (Luke 15:22-24). Not, "'Bout time you came around," but "My dead son is back!"

How odd, then, his older brother's response. He was mad. "You never killed the fattened calf for me." The account gives no point at which the brother was glad, either that his brother was home or his father was happy.

So, a man had two sons. Which son was the biggest concern? The "bad son" who squandered his life or the "good son" who stayed home with dad? The "bad son" who realized his sin and repented or the "good son" ... who never did?

Sometimes we might miss it when our "good kids" are fine and we worry instead about the "bad ones". Because we never really know, do we? Better to pray for both and let God sort them out. Better to be the best parents we can and trust the Judge of all the earth to do what's right.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Woe to You!

"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." (Matt 23:12)
And with that Jesus launches into perhaps the most scathing verbal assaults of His entire earthly ministry. The attack is well known (Matt 23:12-39). It is aimed at the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day. And it isn't "warm and cuddly."

He makes generous use of the "Woe to you" formula, a Hebrew pronouncement of a curse. It is a pronouncement of grief, to be sure, but the Hebrew curse had a particular reason in mind for this distress. A blessing was to have God's face turned toward you; the curse was to have Him turn from you. Thus, "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you." That's the blessing. The curse Jesus pronounced, then, was "You will encounter great grief due to the wrath of God and His turning away from you." No small woe.

His primary complaint was their hypocrisy. They required of others what they weren't willing to give of themselves. "You weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers." (Luke 11:46). They were careful of the small things while ignoring "the weightier provisions of the law" (Matt 23:23). They cleaned the outside of the cup but left the inside evil. He called them "white-washed tombs". I'm pretty sure it wasn't intended as a compliment. I'm pretty sure it didn't make them feel all warm and fuzzy.

There is a segment of Christendom ... let's call it the "Liberal Christians" ... that use this as "proof" that Jesus's prime concern was--His harshest words were used to convey--that religious people should not overburden ... the less religious. Or whatever you wish to term them. "Don't give them rules; give them love!"

Well, sure, anyone who reads the Bible knows that Christians owe their neighbors love, and that "neighbor" does not merely refer to that annoying couple next door. But is it true that Jesus protested rules? I do think that would be a hard argument to sustain. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15). Indeed, Jesus transgressed the liberal arguments by saying, "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me." (John 14:24). "Wait, Jesus, are you saying that those who don't keep Your words don't love You? Are you saying that those who don't obey aren't saved?" Not something that Jesus should even hint at in the liberal mind. Jesus said, "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:19). Now, let's see, how does that add up? Is Jesus "least in the kingdom of heaven" or "great"? If "great", that means that He keeps and teaches the commandments, not nullifies them. So, it would appear that Jesus believed in biblical rules.

What did He protest, then? What was the error of the Pharisees? It was not too close attention to the laws, but too little. It was grabbing at the little parts while ignoring the big. It was not in teaching others to obey the law, but in refusing to do so themselves. Here, let's try a modern parallel. They weren't condemned for rightly recognizing homosexual behavior as a sin, but in only recognizing it as a sin in others. They weren't wrong for rightly tithing, but for failing to clean the inside of the cup. It wasn't that they went too far; they didn't go far enough. They pursued their own little interpretations the the law--"Now, 'do no work on the Sabbath' means you can't walk more than 300 paces"--rather than teaching and obeying the law.

Which are you? Are you standing against the claim that the Bible dictates right living, or are you of the opinion that it has much to say about what is right and wrong? Are you nullifying the law, or are you aiming at teaching and obeying it? Are you opposed to rules, or do you love Christ enough to obey them? Are you pointing fingers at others who fail, refusing to recognize your own sin, or do you start with, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner"? It wasn't the proper recognition of what God says is right and true that was the Pharisees' problem. It was the improper application, primarily to themselves. And that brought a curse from Christ, a curse you don't want to share. Nullifying God's law by hypocrisy or by willfully ignoring it is a serious problem in God's eyes. It is arrogance against the most High. I'm sure you won't like the response from Christ.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Explaining the Supernatural

Ridley Scott, a self-identified agnostic, offered up his grand Exodus: Gods and Kings movie a week before Christmas. Nothing planned about that, right? Well, that's okay. 'Tis the season and all that. So, here we have a man who doesn't actually believe there is a God putting on a movie with "God" in the title about a story from a book breathed by said God about one of the most stunning series of God-interventions in all history. What would you expect his approach to be? Well, to explain it away, of course.

PRI complained that all the characters were white. (Seriously, Ridley, a white Moses, white Pharaoh, and white African queen?) Pastors complain that "it's downright blasphemous the way this film portrays God." Christian Bale says Moses was a terrorist, as well as "likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life. He's a very troubled and tumultuous man who fought greatly against God, against his calling." Nice. And I love this quote from Scott: "I wanted everything to be reality based." You see, that's the idea. So God at the burning bush was represented as a child because "I didn't like the idea of an angel associated with wings" because that wouldn't be reality based. "Any liberties I may have taken in terms of how I show this stuff was, I think, pretty safe ground because I’m always going always from what is the basis of reality, never fantasy ... So the film had to be as real as I could make it."

Frankly, how a self-professed unbeliever depicts a story from the Bible isn't of particular concern to me because he's an unbeliever. What I find fascinating, however, is the attempt at "reality". Darren Aronofsky depicted the story of Noah as an environmentalist God angry at humanity for destroying His creation. Aronofsky's "reality". Ridley Scott has depicted the startling events of the story of the Exodus as partly natural phenomenon and partly the outlandish beliefs of a nut job. Scott's "reality". The whole idea is "How do we explain the supernatural? How do we make it understandable, believable, relatable?" (Making it "relatable" was a specific aim of both Bale and Scott.)

This is what interests me. It's the idea of the skeptic who tries to explain away the supernatural to make it fit with the skeptic's rules of reality. It's the notion of the liberal theologian who attempts to explain away the hand of God to make it fit with his own rules of reality. It's the scientist who complains that we can't measure God (which is a scientist's rule of reality--to be able to measure things) so He doesn't exist. Indeed, at this time of the Nativity, we see this a lot. Jesus could not have been born of a virgin because that doesn't happen in the real world. Angels they did not hear on high because every scientist knows that angels don't happen in a real world. Jesus's entire arrival was not a fulfillment of prophecy because that would imply the miraculous and we start our definition of "reality" with "not miraculous". I once asked a fellow worker if he included God in his considerations to the answers of origins and he boldly and surely denied the possibility. Can't happen. So starting from "We cannot explain the miraculous by the Divine," they will go through a variety of dances, evasions, or just plain denials to explain the supernatural by the natural.

Why? If there is a God--an actual Divine Being who speaks and it exists and who holds all things together and in whom all things consist--why wouldn't there be the miraculous? Conversely, why would we be able to use natural means to "measure God"? He would be supernatural, so why would "natural" be of any use in the question? Indeed, if there is a God who created all that is, isn't nature itself contained in the Supernatural and, therefore, wouldn't it be considered natural for there to be the miraculous?

Now, in truth, the heavens declare the glory of God. In his book, Miracles, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator." God is found in the natural, not because the natural contains Him, but because He is the container in which it exists. But when we decide that the product of the Creator rules out the Creator, we've lapsed into lunacy. When we decide to make the Bible "relatable" and "real" by changing it, we've stepped up to an arrogance that should frighten each of us. Because, in the end, there is no complete explanation of the Supernatural. The finite cannot fully grasp the infinite.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kicking "Buts" and Taking Names

"But ..." It is the beginning to any number of counterarguments. Some are good. I particularly like the "But God" argument. Saul daily sought to kill David "but God did not give him into his hand." (1 Sam 23:14). We are appointed to Sheol "but God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol." (Psa 49:14-15). Not many of us are wise or powerful, "but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise." (1 Cor 1:26-27). We were all dead in sin, "but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ." (Eph 2:1-5). (Oh, praise God for that one.) Many swerve from the truth, "but God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His.'" (2 Tim 2:15-19). Oh, yes, there are some wonderful "but God" arguments.

Generally, though, the "but" precedes something like, "Oh, sure, the Bible seems to say that but..." and then you'll hear why God didn't say it or "Yes, that's your interpretation but ..." and then you'll understand why you're dumber than a box of rocks while the wise ones have come up with a new and improved idea. That "new and improved" idea may be a new way of reading Scripture (as if the Holy Spirit failed all this time (John 16:13)) or it may be the reason why you ought to disregard Scripture altogether thanks to new and improved scholarship or even a new and improved revelation from God.

The Bible has a word for these "buts". It calls them "speculations". At least, my translation does.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor 10:3-5)
Paul describes here a warfare in which we (believers) are engaged. It is not, despite well-meaning apologetics fans, a battle fought with weapons of the flesh. It isn't a fight of wits or better logic or newly uncovered evidence or the like. It is a spiritual battle which must be fought with spiritual weapons. It is with divine weapons against "fortresses". Those fortresses are "speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God." Make no mistake. That friendly fellow who wants to enlighten you about how God doesn't actually exist or that Scripture doesn't actually say what it clearly says is not friendly. He is a son of his father, the father of lies. So your well-aimed logic and evidence may seem reasonable, but it misses the fact that it's not a discussion, it's war. He's not mistaken, he's blind (2 Cor 4:4). And offering better arguments will not alleviate the spiritual hostility (Rom 8:7).

I'd like to point out that in this graphic description of a war fought against fortresses of ideas, Paul suggests that "the enemy" isn't only "them". It is us, too. Do you see that? His concern isn't correcting them; it is "taking every thought captive." You see, whether or not you realize it, you and I suffer from fortresses of speculations that stand against God. They are our own. Each of us needs to constantly be vigilant to be taking our own thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. So when you think, "God, that's not fair!", recognize a fortress in yourself to be overcome. When you think, "Christ would never do" followed by stuff that Scripture said He did do, see in yourself a lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.

This warfare is critical. If you are not constantly in the business of destroying your own fortresses of speculations raised up against God--not constantly taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ--you will find yourself a Benny Hinn arguing for a "name it and claim it" god who gives you all you want ... unless you live in Bangladesh, apparently. Or a Rob Bell who went from a respected pastor to denying Jesus's words about Hell to denying God's words about marriage and homosexual sin. Or a Charles Finney, beloved by Christians as the father of modern evangelism[1], preaching that justification by faith is a "theological fiction", that the cross of Christ could not provide for justification of sinners, denying Original Sin, and defending the ability of the evangelist to bring about a changed heart. This is a war with ourselves as much as with anyone else, in which we need to align our thinking with Christ as much as we face their error.

"They" need help. It's true. And if our weapons are simply science, logic, and evidence, we will find ourselves poorly equipped because "they" aren't fighting a battle of logic. They're waging spiritual warfare and our weapons need to be divinely powered. The problem is compounded by our own spiritual warfare in our own sinful hearts. So wage war first with your own errors. Use liberally with the Word of God illuminated by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 2:7). Because this isn't a civilized debate we're having; it's a fight.

Postscript

I wrote this a few days ago and then came across this quote from Charles Spurgeon. He is speaking about the love for the Word of God and our need to simply take hold of it.
If you will not eat the apples that grow on trees, you must not expect angels to come and bring them to you!
While it is true that some Scriptures are difficult to figure out, the simple fact is that most is quite clear. The question then is will you eat the apples that are there, or will you wait for some angel to feed it to you? Will you say, "I can't comprehend it" and warn others away, or will you follow with, "Nevertheless I believe it" and change your own heart? Will you ask, "Did God say ...?"[2] or will you align yourself to it?
________
[1] Did you know that Charles Finney was the originator of the "altar call"? It was he who pushed for the "Just come on down the aisle" approach in revival meetings, something most of us take for granted today.

[2] For anyone unclear on what I'm referring to when I say, "Did God say ...?", please refer to Genesis 3:1.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Son of God

If I speak to you about "the Son of God", you know of Whom I speak. That would be Jesus. Interestingly, in His lifetime, the first ones recorded to recognize Him as such were Satan and the demons. In Matthew 4 we read of His temptation in the desert. Twice Satan says, "If You are the Son of God ..." Later, demons from the Gadarenes cried out, "What have you to do with us, O Son of God?" (Matt 8:29) (right after Jesus had calmed the storm and His disciples had marveled saying, "What sort of man is this that even the winds and sea obey Him?" (Matt 8:27)). It wasn't until Jesus walked on water and stilled a storm that His disciples finally figured out, "Truly you are the Son of God." (Matt 14:25-33).

Jesus Himself alludes to the phrase in His conversation with Nicodemus. "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18). Sure, He's referring to Himself in the third person, but we know who "the Son of God" is, right? Because we just read "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16). Yes, that's the "Him" in Whom we are to believe.

That "only begotten Son" phrase has been a problem for some time. The arch-heretic, Arius, used it to argue that Jesus was clearly not God the Son but merely God's son (notice the shift to lowercase "s") because He was begotten. The Jehovah's Witnesses agree. He was limited in time, new on the scene, a mighty prophet, but not God Incarnate. But the word there is interesting. It is μονογενής. ("Thanks, Stan, clears it right up.") Okay, monogenēs. ("Again, Stan, a veritable font of useless knowledge.") Okay, let's try this. It is a two-part word. The first you recognize: mono. "One." Got it. Clear enough. The second you should also recognize: genēs. It is rooted in the verb "to generate" or "to cause to be", but we use it as the source of our word, "genus". The word, then, can be used to speak of an only child, but it also refers to "only" or, most accurately, "one of a kind". Thayer's defines it as "single of its kind, only".

Jesus, then, is the only Son of God. He has no beginning or end (Heb 7:3). Demons fear Him. He is beloved by the Father (Matt 3:17). It was the claim of deity for which they sought to kill Him (John 19:7). By calling God His Father, He made Himself equal with God (John 5:18). He is the Son to whose image we will be conformed (Rom 8:29). Paul writes,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. (Col 1:15-20)
That is a lot of superlatives. That is the Son of God.

Jesus is the Son of God. By hostile witness (Satan and his minions), by witness of His followers, and by witness of His Father, Jesus was God Incarnate, the Son of God, the image of the Father. He told Philip, "Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father." (John 14:9). This is our God, the Second Person of the Trinity, God in Flesh, the image to which we will be conformed, the One who deserves our worship.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Merry What?

Have you read about the American Atheists group aiming their anti-God adverts (the article's words, not mine) at the rural Bible-belt for Christmas? Nice. A little girl writes a letter to Santa. "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I'm too old for fairy tales." Because it makes perfect sense to protest a "fairy tale god" while affirming a fairy tale Santa, right? "And besides, we're opposed to your overt religious invasion of our world at this time of year ... while we steal the opportunity to have a holiday" (read "holy-day") "on the back of your beliefs bereft of our own."

There are so many ways to view this thing. There's the irony of "It's okay to believe in Santa whom we all know doesn't exist, just not God." But I'm pretty sure they were going for that irony. There's the irony of asking the mythical being for relief from the real One. There's the fundamental irony of "It's really cute that kids believe in Santa, but really awful that they might believe in God." There's the Christmas irony. "We're deeply in love with celebrating Christmas ... as long as it doesn't include Christ." There's ... well the list just keeps going, doesn't it?

The irony is thick with this one.

Well, to all atheists, have a merry ... what ... not Christmas ... nothing at all to do with Christ or Mass (church) or God's message of peace and goodwill or ... let's see ... merry ... what? Have a merry day? Wow, that fell flat.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Good Grief

It seems as if every beloved character in our entertainment world has a catchphrase. You know, each one has a phrase by which you can identify them. So there was "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" or "Dyn-o-mite!" or "De plane! De plane!" or "Yabba dabba do!", and most of you could name THE character who is identified by those phrases. For the Peanuts' Charlie Brown it was "Good grief!" Have you ever thought about that phrase? I mean, how do you put together "good" and "grief" and make sense of it? Well, apparently there would need to be something good about grief, wouldn't there?

Christians who follow Christ (which is the definition of "Christians", isn't it?) and the Word in a serious manner are often thought of as killjoys. We tend to be viewed as intolerant and judgmental, hypocritical and self-righteous. We will stand on the proverbial street corner and decry killing babies and sexual sin and homosexual behavior and "gay marriage" and the like. That is, we are against something. Everything? Maybe. And the truth is if you talk to most genuine, Bible-believing Christians, there is a sense of righteous indignation about much of what's going on these days. We're indignant if not irate about judges overruling the people's vote to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and we're upset on one hand about the societal embrace of homosexual sin coupled on the other hand with the rejection of traditional Judeo-Christian morality and we're pieved that when we're viewed as morally indignant we're called "haters", "anti-gay", "intolerant", and "judgmental" by people who are haters, anti-Christian, intolerant and judgmental. But the question I want to ask is is this right? No, not them--us. Are we right in our moral outrage?

Using Jesus as our guide, what was Jesus's response to the sin of His day? We know (because it is so often thrown at us) that He spent time with sinners. This is, in fact, true. Jesus "came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). When confronted with a woman "caught in adultery", His response wasn't moral indignation. It was "Neither do I condemn you[1]; go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8:11). Jesus is not portrayed in Scripture as a hater, intolerant, judgmental. Indeed, His enemies portrayed Him as "a friend of sinners" (Matt 11:19). (They didn't mean that as a compliment.) Is it possible that our go-to position of righteous indignation is not the best option?

This, of course, is not a complete picture of Jesus's response to sin. Jesus as lover of sinners (not sin, but sinners) is not the whole picture. It is not a warm embrace in view when Jesus twice invaded the Temple with a whip, overturning tables and furiously chasing out money-changers (John 2:15; Matt 21:12). "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you make it a den of robbers." (Matt 21:13). Not warm and fuzzy. That is righteous indignation. Jesus's first and continuous message was not "God loves you," but "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17). Jesus wasn't very cuddly when He addressed the cities that had rejected Him (Mat 11:21-24). "I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you." Not a warm embrace. And His words to the Pharisees were less than friendly (Matt 23). "Woe" in Jesus's day referred to a curse, not a blessing, and referring to them as "hypocrites", "blind guides", and "whitewashed tombs" wasn't very inclusive, tolerant, or non-judgmental, was it? Apparently, then, His tolerance and non-judgmental attitude was limited and not the only option.

Jesus had one other response to the sin of His day. It is hinted at in John 11 where we find the Bible-memorizers' favorite verse, "Jesus wept." (John 11:35). Why did He weep? I mean, He knew what He was about to do. He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. What's to weep about? But it is not the only place. In Luke 19 Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:41-44). Grief. Grief over sin and the lost. Good grief. Oh, wait! That's where I started, isn't it? Grief is good when it grieves the genuine loss that sin brings, when it recognizes the pain that sin causes, when it is the result of compassion. That's good grief.

It would appear that we have more than one Christian response to sin in our world. There is the need to reach the lost and to do so with tenderness. There is the need to confront sin and to do so with righteous indignation. And there is the need to grieve over sin and the pain it causes. Good grief. In your indignation with the homosexual, have you loved them? In your moral outrage, have you grieved for them? All three are valid and necessary.

There is, however, one very important point I'd like to make here. Before you ever rouse that moral outrage, that righteous indignation over the sin of the homosexual, before you ever embrace that sinner, before you ever weep over their sin, you had better have dealt with and be dealing with your own. We don't come to a sinful world sinless. We don't come to the sexually immoral without our own sexual immorality. We don't come to the unbeliever without ourselves having failed to believe. We are not morally superior. We are simply forgiven. It is good to be passionate about God's glory and concerned about those who fall short of it. It is excellent to pursue sinners with the Gospel. It is wonderful to grieve about sin. That is good grief. But grieve first about your own. Begin first with "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." (Luke 18:13). Deal first with your own sins. Jesus said that, too (Matt 7:1-5).
________
[1] Very important. When Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you", He was not denying the sin of adultery or excusing sin. (We can be sure of this because He says, "Go and sin no more.") What He was saying was "I am not going to carry out the penalty of the sin in this case." Perhaps it was because the case was sketchy (Where was the guy in all this if they were "caught in the act"?) or maybe it was because He was not in the position at that time to carry out the God-given punishment or maybe it was because He was simply showing mercy at the time, but what He was not doing was ignoring sin. See Matt 5:19 for His view on annulling God's commandments.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Means and Ends

Usually when we talk about the means to an end, we are discussing the means. How do we get there? Have you ever noticed how little we talk about the ends?

In the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 1 is "What is the chief end of man?" Right off the bat we're talking about the end. The question is not "What do we do while we're here?" but "Why are we here?" And the question is essential if you think about it. Having a variety of means is all well and good, but you won't know what means to use if you don't know the end you're shooting for. So what is the chief end of man? Why are we here? The catechism answer is "Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever." Now, see? If that is the reason you exist, wouldn't that have a serious effect on how you live? Means are a way to get to an end, but knowing the end will determine what means you use and how you use them.

Take, for instance, eating. Eating is not, in itself, an end. It is a means to an end. What that end is will determine a lot about how you use eating. If the end is personal pleasure, then you will eat a lot of the wrong stuff because, face it, the wrong stuff often tastes so good. "Diet" is simply "die" with a "t" at the end. If the end is fitness, then you will eat a lot of stuff aimed at being healthy and fit. But you won't eat a lot of tasty foods because, as everyone knows, healthy foods are not tasty foods. (Oh, I know, you fitness buffs will disagree, but if you are honest, you will admit that finding healthy food tasty is an acquired taste.) Others will see eating as a means to fuel the body for further purposes, and that will have a different effect on what you eat. The end to which you eat will determine what you eat.

Take, for instance, sex. (Oh, now I have your attention, eh?) God designed sex. He designed it for a purpose. You may or may not have that purpose--those ends--in mind. If you approach sex as a means to pleasure, clearly your sexual processes will have a certain direction. You will do what appeals to your own pleasure. You will seek experiences and events that tickle your own fancy. You will ... use people for your own enjoyment. Oh, sure, maybe that looks like abusive sex or maybe it looks like generous sex because, after all, there are people who get their biggest enjoyment from giving pleasure, but in either case, it is using people because the end is your own pleasure. Or the end could be more biblical. If the aim is procreation, for instance (which is clearly one of God's intended purposes for sex), that changes what you do with sex. If the aim is to give to your spouse (because married sex is the only God-given good sex), then it will certainly change what you do. Remember that Paul warned, "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." (1 Cor 7:4). How many genuine, Bible-believing followers of Christ take that approach? How many see "giving my body to my spouse" as an actual end in sex? Because the single most common purpose in sex is "my pleasure" and most of us in this sex-saturated society have a really hard time thinking of it as anything but "my pleasure". So for most of us it is "I don't want to so, since it's about my pleasure I won't" or "I want to so, since it's about my pleasure you must." And what we do in the bedroom will generally be determined by "my pleasure". But the biblical, God-given purpose of sex is reproduction, intimacy (see Song of Solomon), and giving yourself to your spouse (1 Cor 7:4). The ends change the means and how you use them.

In a materialist worldview, the answer to the purpose of life is ... nothing. No end. No reason. No purpose. Now, given no "chief end of man", what do you do? Well, it doesn't really matter because you're not working toward anything. You have a variety of means at hand but nowhere to go with them. The end gives no direction to the means. So in an atheist worldview, a well-mannered, caring, considerate, altruistic life is as moral as a serial murderer since the ends justify the means and the ends are personally defined.

Consider, however, the Christian ends. Take our two examples--eating and sex. You see, the Bible isn't silent here. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes about both eating and sex. After talking about food sacrificed to idols, Paul concludes, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31). Pleasure or fitness or fuel? Maybe. But Paul says the ultimate purpose of eating is "the glory of God." Would it change your views of what you eat if you were eating for the glory of God? And in the sixth chapter he writes about sexual sin, concluding, "For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Cor 6:20). Could it possibly not change your approach to sex if you viewed it as a means to glorify God? I mean, do you even have an inkling of what it means to glorify God in sex?

They say that the ends justify the means. Maybe. In some cases. Perhaps. More likely not. But certainly the ends determine the use of means. What you do with what you have will be determined by what you're trying to accomplish. If you're trying to accomplish the glory of God, that certainly will touch every single means you have, every method and choice you make, every aspect of your life. Are you considering the purpose of what you do? God is.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cosmic Killjoy

"Hear, O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight," says Solomon (Prov 4:1) and sets out to urge his son to "Get wisdom" (Prov 4:5). He gives reasons to avoid sin (Prov 4:8,12,18,etc.). And he says this:
My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. (Prov 4:20-22)
God has a pretty bad reputation in many circles. He is the Cosmic Killjoy, making rules against everything you might enjoy, apparently simply because you might enjoy it. Rules against sex and drunkenness and the like. The Bible lists "disobedient to parents" right alongside "haters of God" and "inventors of evil." (Rom 1:30). That can't be right. In fact, Paul specifically lists "lovers of pleasure" as a bad thing (2 Tim 3:4). You like it? It's likely wrong.

Oh, sure, maybe that's an exaggeration, but you know that's how it feels. God is arbitrary in His rules and the first rule appears to be "thou shalt not do whatever it is that would make you happy." Check it out. Commandment #1 in Hezekiah 20:5. Okay, maybe not, but that's how it feels. So what's up with the rules?

That Proverbs passage says something we don't hear much. Solomon assured his son that following his wise advice by pursuing wisdom and avoiding sin would produce "healing to all their flesh". Did you catch that? Because we surely don't hear that one very often. God says that obedience to His instructions is good for you. Here, let me do that again. Good for you. God isn't being a killjoy. As the Maker of the human machine, He's telling you how it works best. In order to avoid a breakdown, avoid violating the operating instructions. If you want to be happy, follow the operating instructions. If you want to avoid difficulties (Prov 4:12), to be honored (Prov 4:8), to be safe (Prov 6), to live long (Prov 4:10), and so much more, pursue wisdom and avoid sin.

No, it's not a killjoy. It's a better way. If it is not such to you, I suspect you're missing the point. Ignorance or willful ignorance. Either way, it is a good thing to follow Christ, a very good thing. And not just because He says so. It's not a killjoy; it is the abundant life.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sexual Sin

Sexual sin is a big one, isn't it? I mean, the Bible makes much ado of it.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (Heb 13:4)

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Cor 6:18)

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Cor 7:2)

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. (1 Thess 4:3-5)

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (1 Cor 6:13)

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Gal 5:19-21)

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Pet 2:11)
And that's just a quick sample. Seems like God is serious about sexual sin. But ... are we?

Our society has normalized all manner of sexual sin. Sex outside of marriage isn't acceptable; it's encouraged. "You need to try it first to be sure you're compatible with the one you want to marry," they'll tell you. "It's not wise to wait. At best, it's not realistic. I mean, come on!" Then there is all manner of deviance that is simply classified as good as long as it's consensual, as if "consensual" is the definition of "good". I've heard people who call themselves Christians argue that bondage and sadomasochism are perfectly fine in the bedroom, as if sex defined by cruelty and abuse can be "perfectly fine". And the world around has embraced the homosexual behavior forbidden in Scripture and is moving to normalize pedophilia and bestiality in the progression. (I could link to stories about this, but I won't as a courtesy; my mother reads this blog.) And, of course, the pervasiveness of pornography is unavoidable, even for Christians.

The Bible views sexual sin as a big one. Indeed, Paul says it is unique. "Every other sin a person commits is outside the body," he writes, "but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body." (1 Cor 6:18). That's a big problem. While the world isn't particularly concerned about aligning their lives with God, we should be. But this one is tough--tougher than most. What can be done?

The Bible has some suggestions. Job warns about guarding what you look at. "I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?" (Job 31:1). Good point. Jesus echoed it and expanded on it. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell." (Matt 5:27-30). These are extreme measures, and I'm not advocating (and I don't believe Jesus is advocating) that you physically pluck out your eyes, but He is (and I am) advocating that you take extreme measures to control your eyes.

In the warning to guard looking at sinful things, David warns further. "I will set no worthless thing before my eyes." (Psa 101:3). Often it is the innocuous and seemingly innocent thing that gets us started down the wrong path. Watch what you watch.

Scripture advocates memorization of God's Word in fighting sin. "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee." (Psa 119:11). Scripture memorization is a good thing. It worked well for Jesus (Matt 4:1-11).

If we are commanded to "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17), it would make sense that this would be an important part of the process of fighting sin.

Since "No temptation has taken you except what is common to man" (1 Cor 10:13) and we are told to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2), it would stand to reason that we should find mentors, accountability partners who care about us and can help hold us to the standard of sexual purity.

While being careful of what we look at, from the blatantly tempting to the seemingly innocent but provocative, is important, what we think about is more so. Sexual sin begins first in the mind. Satan is depicted as a roaring lion seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And he's good at it, even appearing as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). We would then need to be careful to guard our minds. Philippians 4:6-7 says that's done partly by prayer. But Paul goes on to recommend (command), "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil 4:8). I would suggest that much of what we dwell on does not fall in these categories, and that is a common start to sexual sin.

One not often mentioned in these types of things is mentioned in Scripture. "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love." (Prov 5:18-19). You see, a delight in "the wife of your youth" is a very effective method of avoiding sexual sin. If you are "intoxicated always in her love", you have no interest in looking elsewhere, either physically or otherwise.

The last one I offer is one almost never mentioned. That's odd to me because it is, after all, the only one that actually works. In the book of Job we read, "Receive instruction from His mouth, and lay up His words in your heart. For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty and lift up your face to God." (Job 22:22,26). Puritan Richard Baxter wrote that the love for God is the only sure remedy for the love of the flesh. And it is only there that we find real relief. Guarding your eyes from both the tempting and the worthless, memorizing God's Word, prayer, accountability, guarding your thoughts, delighting in your spouse--these are all important and useful things, but only if they are rooted in a prior and real love for God. Then and only then do any of them actually make sense. They aren't some helpful "6-Point Method" for solving the problem of sexual sin. There is no solution to sin, sexual or otherwise, unless "God's seed abides in him", unless "he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9), and unless there is a genuine love for God that takes precedence over the natural, sinful love of sin. On the other hand, when the love of God supercedes the love of sexual sin, then sexual sin becomes a non-issue. Thus, it is that first commandment--"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matt 22:36)--on which all of this hinges.

Here, consider this. The Bible tells us the origin of sexual sin. "For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves." (Rom 1:21-24). Did you see that? The reason humans are given to their lusts is not that we're human or addicted or genetically programmed or any such thing. It is because we refuse to honor or thank God. The primary problem is a problem of idolatry, of a faulty relationship with God, not a problem of lust. That problem follows the first. The remedy to that problem, then, is not "Work harder and push out all those bad desires" because that just leaves a vacuum. The remedy to the problem is "Know God, honor Him as God, and give thanks to Him." Know Him in the sense of intimacy with Him. A deep love for God is the one sure remedy for a love of the flesh.

So, there are some tools. Start with the last. I suspect you'll find that's the biggest issue. Then work your way up from there. You will surely find help in the biblical approach, especially when you start with a love for God and an aim for His glory.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Stewardship

Erik Raymond, an Ordinary Pastor, writes about "Stewarding Technology Well". Good article. He deals with important things like the moral neutrality of an iPhone, the problem of technology as master rather than tool, and the interruptions of "alerts". He touches on a somewhat odd premise: "My phone (and technology in general) must be seen through the lenses of stewardship."

Really? Stewardship? Of phone use? Or technology in general? Hey, pastor, aren't you mixing the sacred and the secular? I mean, sure, you don't want to use your technology sinfully or even unwisely, but stewardship?

He writes
A steward is someone who is not the owner but the caretaker. He is the one who has been given something for the purposes of using it faithfully, even improving upon it in view of giving an account. We are stewards of our lives. Therefore, everything we do should be seen in light of the reality of stewardship. Nothing, even when there appears to be nothing to do, escapes this reality.
Yes, yes indeed. Stewardship. If stewardship is taking care of someone else's property and all that we have and are belongs to God, then our lives, our families, our friends, our jobs, and, yes, even our technology fall under that concept.

Imagine a life lived with the notion that "The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein (Psa 24:1). What would that be like?

Paul repeats the claim in 1 Cor 10:26. What does Paul conclude?
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31)
"Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Quite an expansive statement. Whatever you do. Really? Whatever? Because you do a lot. You sleep at night and dress in the morning. You eat and work and talk to people and do a lot of stuff in private, both physically and mentally. Whatever?

Imagine a life, then, lived in stewardship, where everything belonged to God and you were merely the caretaker to the glory of God. I submit this would be a life radically lived. We might be able to see some things without difficulty. Doing your job for the glory of God seems easy to figure out. Letting your speech be seasoned with grace (Col 4:6) would make sense. Loving your spouse, your kids, your neighbor would seem obvious. But the vast majority, I think, would seem odd to us. Dressing for the glory of God may not be an easy thought. Eating for the glory of God isn't a common notion. The romance and sexual relationship of husband and wife to the glory of God seems strange in our minds. But Paul's prayer was that "the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely" (1 Thess 5:23), so I would submit that this is the principle. I would suggest that your phone must be seen through the lenses of stewardship ... along with everything else in your life. Imagine such a life.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Means of Grace

There is a term in some circles of Christendom. It is "the means of grace". The term first surfaced in the Reformation and refers to those things through which God provides for our salvation and sanctification. Some refer to them as "spiritual disciplines". Lists vary slightly, but basically the means of grace includes the Gospel, the Bible, baptism, Christian fellowship, the Lord's Supper, and prayer. The usual use of the term is prefaced with "neglecting", as in "neglecting the means of grace", and is a warning. If you neglect the Gospel, the Bible, baptism, fellowship, prayer, and the Lord's Supper you are endangering your salvation and your sanctification. But the idea is that God is a God of means--you know, "means to an end"--and these are the things God has ordained to be used in your everyday walk to become more sanctified--to "work out your salvation" (Phil 2:12). These are the methods by which we can constantly be bathed in the grace of God.

We have acquired some odd perspectives on these means of grace. Some have decided that they are either inadequate or no longer applicable. I mean, really, do we need the Lord's Supper anymore? Sure, sure, Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of Me", and Paul added, "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes", but we don't need to ... what, remember Him? Or have we already forgotten what it was about Him it was supposed to remind us of? Lots of individuals neglect these means. From even knowing the Gospel let alone using it to reading the Bible, individual believers are finding it less than optimum to do these things. And for some "Christian fellowship" is all well and good ... well, maybe not. "I'm closer to God when I'm alone with Him in a forest," they'll assure you, working hard to defend their sin of forsaking fellowship (Heb 10:25). "It's a personal thing." No, it's not. And, of course, there is a move in a variety of places to replace or add to them. "Sure, read your Bible and all that, but what we really need is a good praise band to really get closer to God." "Fellowship is good (maybe), but a hip and cool youth ministry is much more important." The Warrenites (a term I just made up to avoid casting aspersions on the man while allowing you to recognize of what I speak) were quite sure that "40 days of purpose" were necessary for your sanctification. There are always new ones, like the "Theophostic Prayer Ministry" that succeeds where the means of grace fails or "Deliverance Ministries" that claim to remove demons from Christians to free them to grow. And there is the ever-popular "Well, okay, but if you aren't baptized in the Spirit with the sign of speaking in tongues, you're not really going anywhere in Christ" along with all that accompanies that perspective. Just some samplings.

The list of the means of grace is a biblical list. We hold to this list because we find these means in God's Word. But something I think is important to remember is that they are means. They are important means and they are biblical means, but they are means to an end. And it is very easy to focus on the finger that points to the moon rather than on the moon. Believers all need to make use of the means God has ordained for our salvation and sanctification. It is the method God has set in place to accomplish them. But the aim is our salvation and sanctification. Perhaps, as we pray and immerse ourselves in His Word, as we learn and use the Gospel, as we fellowship and are baptized and share the Lord's Supper--as we do all of these things--perhaps we can keep in mind the end goal and not get caught up in the means as the end. We should be, after all, "looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2). That should provide clarity and direction as we use the means God has provided.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The New American Standard

No, not a version of the Bible. Let me explain.

There was the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent trial and exoneration of George Zimmerman in Sanford, FL. More recently black youth Michael Brown was shot to death by white officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO, black man Eric Garner was choked to death by white officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin Damico in New York City, NY, and so it goes. Oscar Grant was killed by a BART officer in Oakland, CA, in 2009. Sean Bell was killed in a hail of bullets in Queens, NY, in 2006. Akai Gurley was shot to death in Brooklyn, NY, just last month. Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old boy shot to death by a rookie police officer while he was playing with a toy pistol in Cleveland, OH. It seems that things are getting tougher out there.

In the wake of all these, protests have surged throughout the country. They want to know the name of the officer(s) and they want justice. When justice isn't delivered, they protest ... long and loud and sometimes with extreme violence. As a minimum they are going to disrupt your day if you're in the vicinity because, after all, they're mad and you exist. Maybe your store is in their reach and needs to be burned down. Maybe you're just on your way to work and they don't want that. When protesters in San Diego, CA, blocked the interstate, Tyree Landrum, a black man on his way to work, confronted them angrily. "I got to go to Ross right now, homie," he said. "If I don't get there, I'm going to get fired." Because, you see, it makes sense that disrupting your life will make their case. Doesn't it?

The title references "the New American Standard". It is not any of this to which I refer. Not the tensions between police and people, between those with guns and those without, between whites and blacks, or even between protesters and the lives they impact. This isn't new. I am most disturbed by the new standard in American jurisprudence.

In some countries you are guilty until proven innocent. If you're charged, it is up to you to prove the charge is false by presenting evidence to that claim. In America, the standard has been the reverse: innocent until proven guilty. If you're charged, it is the prosecution's task to demonstrate "beyond a reasonable doubt" by evidence that you did it. We've now come to a new way, a "third way": "Guilty until we say so."

We saw it in the Rodney King case. The people were irate. They wanted justice. The officers involved were tried and acquitted. And that caused 6 days of rioting, looting, burning, and mayhem. "Justice," they said, "was not served." How? Because the officers were guilty and needed to be punished and that didn't happen. Why? "Because we said so."

We saw it in the Trayvon Martin case when George Zimmerman was exonerated in court and the Michael Brown case when the grand jury decided the evidence didn't merit a trial. We're even seeing it in the case of Bill Cosby where women are coming forward with 30-year-old accusations of rape and molestation. The Navy withdraws its honorary title and the public withdraws its support not because the proof is there, but because the accusations are there. Indeed, the police have stated that they stand ready to investigate any such accusation, but none have been brought to them. Like Zimmerman and Wilson and the rest, Cosby is guilty "until we say otherwise" ... even to the Navy.

This new rule is different than the prior two. They came at it from opposite directions--"guilty until" or "innocent until"--but both required evidence to prove the case. This new one is "guilty until we say otherwise" and no proof is required. "It is true because we feel it is." No amount of evidence will do. "Justice" is "what we say it is" and is not satisfied "until we say it is". Mob rule.

To be fair, this rule has existed since Man began. There have been vendettas, vigilantes, and lynch mobs from the start. I suppose it's just that today our media puts it in your face and makes it appear "normal". Add to that the fact that we live in this "Age of Empathy" where "truth" is defined by "how we feel", and we're on the edge of a dangerous precipice. When mob rule is random, under cover, and rare, it doesn't threaten to overrun society. When it becomes public, united, open and even exalted, we're in trouble. Note that I haven't even considered the merits of any of these cases. That's because in this particular New Standard the merits of cases is irrelevant. Can we simply expect more of this? Is this how America finally tears itself apart? Let's hope not.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Bible on Marriage

We all know that our world has decided to modify, over the past 50 years or so, the definition of marriage. This gradual redefinition has left it essentially undefined. Oh, yes, we might agree that it's some socially recognized legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations, but it's all very vague. It is no longer, for instance, an actual union as it had been considered for so long because dissolving a union is no small issue but we're quite happy with "no fault divorce". And "monogamy" was all well and good for awhile, but we've headed more toward "monogamish". "Serial monogamy" they call it--one at a time. So we're out on a limb here without a rope and without a genuine, usable definition.

Society is free to define things however they want or, in this case, to undefine them. I, on the other hand, am required to use the Bible as my source document. So what does the Bible offer by way of defining marriage?

First, let's be clear. You will not be able to go to your King James Bible, flip over to "m", and find something like "marriage; noun: 1. the formal union ..." There aren't a lot of entries like that in the Bible. But in the same way that what the Bible says about the Trinity defines it, what the Bible says about marriage defines it.

So, first entry.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)
This is the first and standard definition. It is the same one used by Jesus (Matt 19:6). It is used by Paul (Eph 5:31). It is the standard. We have man and wife (male and female) who leave and cleave. Leave family and cleave to one another. Two become one. Clear and obvious.

The second entry in our biblical definition is nearby.
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." (Gen 2:18)
The idea, then, is "a suitable helper". Marriage is designed by God to be for the mutual help of husband and wife.

The third entry in our Bible dictionary is found in a couple of places.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen 1:28)

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." (Gen 9:1)

Did He not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. (Mal 2:15)
I'm actually quite surprised these days that genuine, Bible-believing Christians, when told that a fundamental purpose in marriage is reproduction, disagree. Now, the disagreement may take different forms, to be sure. "It's no longer the case." "Well, what about marriages that don't have children?" That sort of thing. But I cannot fathom how the clear statements of Scripture here could be construed to mean "No, it is not a basic idea for marriage in the mind of God." It is. Now, to answer the second one because that comes up a lot, both among Christians and the world, we have to keep in mind that having offspring does not define a marriage, but that its intent does, or rather its intent as a norm. If God made them one seeking godly offspring (Mal 2:15), then there had better be a good reason why they don't have godly offspring. Perhaps it is because God closed the womb (1 Sam 1:5). Maybe it is a sacrifice for greater service. Maybe. But as the norm, given that God says He makes the union to obtain godly offspring, I would think it obvious that this would be a normal part of marriage and when it is not it would be the exception done for biblical, God-centered reasons.

There is another biblical purpose for marriage.
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Cor 7:2)
Let's call it "mutual protection". The idea discussed in 1 Corinthians 7 is just that. "So that Satan may not tempt you." (1 Cor 7:5). As a righteous outlet for sexual intimacy and a form of mutual support in life's temptations, marriage is designed by God as a bulwark against sexual sin.

One more little tidbit that I recently learned and you might enjoy. In Ephesians 5 we find one of the passages on marriage that produces the most contention among believers. There Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands "as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22-24) and husbands to love their wives "as Christ loved the church" (Eph 5:25-28). Now, most don't have a problem with the "Husbands, love your wives" part; it's that whole "wives submit" part that grates. But look at the reason. You know Paul gives a reason, right? Maybe you, like me, missed it. Paul gives his definition of marriage (Eph 5:31) and then explains, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." (Eph 5:32). There it is. God instituted marriage at the very beginning of "man and woman" for this purpose. Oh, sure, it has several components, but the underlying purpose of marriage from God's perspective is to demonstrate to each other and to the world the relationship between Christ and the Church. The Bridegroom and the Bride. The Bible begins with marriage (Gen 2:24) and ends with marriage (Rev 19:6-9). This institution ordained by God is designed by God to illustrate Christ's relationship to the Church. As such, husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church and, wives, submit to your husbands as the Church submits to Christ. Don't mess that picture up.

Thus, we have a basic structure for a biblical definition of marriage. It is the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of mutual assistance and fellowship, for godly offspring, and for defense against sin. Ultimately, marriage is designed by God as an image of the union of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:31-32). As such, messing with the imagery laid out by God is very unwise. But it would stand to reason that if God designed marriage with these things in mind, it would work best with these things in mind. So, obligated as I am to follow the Word of God, I am obligated to conclude this is God's view of marriage and anything else is not ... even if the judge says otherwise.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Secular

Look the word up sometime. "Secular: adj. 1. of or pertaining to worldly things not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred. 2. not pertaining to or connected with religion. 3. concerned with nonreligious subjects." Well, you get the idea. And you know it. And you get it. So we have "secular music" and "secular media". We have "the sacred and the secular". Oh, and don't forget "secular humanism".

I would like to suggest that the word is, at its core, fantasy. It is largely a unicorn, a mythical thing that lots of people adore but doesn't actually exist.

Consider, first, Scripture on the subject:
The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. (Psa 24:1; 1 Cor 10:26)

For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col 1:16-17)

In Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)
If the earth is the Lord's, if all things hold together in Him, if we live and move and exist in Him, what remains? What is apart from the sacred?

We make differentiations. We might say, "I have a secular job" meaning that I don't work in the ministry. But isn't my job a calling from God in which I am commanded to make disciples and be a light for Christ? We consider good and evil as divisions of the sacred and the secular, but Joseph told his brothers, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20), demonstrating that in the "secular" the "sacred" is involved. And so it goes.

Paul wrote that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will." (Eph 1:11). Now, if He works all things according to the counsel of His will, what is excluded? What falls outside of God's work?

Consider a biblical example of secular versus sacred:
Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice. (Phil 1:14-18)
Here we have two groups preaching Christ. One does so from love and the other from envy and rivalry. The sacred and the secular. Paul considers both a good thing in that "Christ is proclaimed".

Now, sure, there is such a thing as "secular" in a certain sense. There are godly things and sinful things. There is the world and there is the Body of Christ. These distinctions exist and are even biblical. This is true. I am only trying to highlight what I think is a common misperception. We tend to draw this distinction in places not drawn by God. We've let the world draw these lines. There is no difference in the life of the believer between the secular and the sacred when it comes to living. Your job, your spouse, your family, your friendships, your politics, even your appearance all play into the sacred as part of your relationship with Christ and your commission to make disciples. There is no corner of your world that is not touched by God, not owned by Christ. Perhaps if we keep that in mind it can alter our perceptions about everything we have and do. I know it does mine.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Santa God

It's just as easy these days to find a "Jesus is coming" bumper sticker as to hear "Santa Claus is coming to town." "No connection," you might think, but I beg to differ. It is my opinion that God and Santa are interlinked in the minds of most Americans, at least subconsciously. Consider.

Santa lives somewhere that you can't see ... you've never seen. Except, perhaps, in story or movies, but never actually. And God is in His heavens where no one has been.

Santa is mostly absent, but he's watching. Oh, yes, he's keeping an eye out for good girls and boys. He's making a list and checking it twice. The threat is "I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas 'cause I ain't been nuttin' but bad", but everyone knows better, don't we? Santa loves all girls and boys and everyone, good or bad, will get something wonderful despite the threat of being on his "Naughty List". If it exists, it doesn't really matter. And, of course, we all know that God loves everybody and wouldn't do anything as mean as damning people to eternal torment just because they told a fib or something. No, many believe in God and believe in hell, but "I'm not going there" because, after all, God loves all girls and boys.

Despite the "Naughty List" threat, at the core Santa is a gift giver. He will bring you what you want. Just ask him. Now, of course, he may not know what you want, so you have to let him know. He'll try to bring you something nice, but if you don't let him know what you want, he won't know what to bring. God, at His core, is a nice guy who gives gifts to people. You just let Him know what you want by prayer. He'll give it to you. Just ask anyone. It worked for them even if it hasn't worked for you. Because He's in the business of making you happy.

If Santa fails to bring you what you asked for, it's time to stop believing in fairy tales. Grow up. It's about time. Santa is really just "comfort food", stories we tell our kids to make them feel nice. When God fails to do for you what you demand, it's time to set Him aside. Another myth told to frightened children afraid of the dark or death or some such.

The Santa Claus concept has its origins in Nicholas from Turkey. Nicholas was a generous believer adamant for the truth about God. I suspect he would complain profusely about the image we've made it into. I think, however, that we've simply created Santa in our image of God, a twisted, distorted image far removed from reality. Because we are, in our natural condition, "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Tim 3:4), and that god now sits in the seat of our celebration of the Incarnation. Nice trick. I suspect you can guess its originator. (Do you suppose there's a reason that rearranging "Santa" into "Satan" is so easy to do?)

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Christmas in a Post-Christian World

I took a trip with my wife over the Thanksgiving week to see family. Six hours in the car across the desert one way. But, it's okay. We have satellite radio and my wife likes Christmas music, so she was delighted to find not one, but two Christmas stations--one traditional and one contemporary. Six hours of Christmas music across the desert. Sigh.

It was interesting. In those hours and hours of traditional and contemporary Christmas music I heard three ... count 'em, three songs that included Jesus. Imagine that! One was a Christmas medley of standards like Joy to the World and Silent Night. Good. Then there was the Pentatonix Little Drummer Boy which was nice (at least it mentions "Baby Jesu", right?). And finally there was a rap version of Silent Night. (You know, rapping "Silent Night" with a back beat and all just spoils the entire notion of "Silent Night".) That's three. In 6 hours. And I realized I was getting the feel of Christmas in a post-Christian world.

Santa came up a lot, of course. I always thought it was ironic when Burl Ives sang "Let's give thanks to the Lord above, 'Cause Santa Claus is coming tonight." Kind of a mixed message there, isn't it? There were a lot of tunes about family and home. Nice things, really, I suppose, if you value family and home. I do, but not everyone does. There were the mandatory "snow" tunes which have been mostly meaningless to me for most of my life having lived in southern California and Arizona for the vast majority of the time ... and nothing like snow in any of those decades, but, okay, that's fine if you value snow. There were the obligatory "what I want for Christmas" tunes. There was the Santa Baby types that appeal to the materialists and the My Christmas Wish types that appeal to the spiritualists, but it was "what I want", not anything about why or who.

So once again the world has stolen from Christianity to make something their own without actually making it make sense. Atheism steals from Christian ethics to make a moral code because they have none of their own. And that's just one example of the theft I have in mind. The primary ethic of Christian living is gratitude--we give because of all we have been given. The primary ethic of worldly living is self--whatever I feel is fine. So they've borrowed the gratitude ethic for Thanksgiving but removed the One to whom you might give thanks because they feel like it's nice to say "Thank you" even if we don't acknowledge the Giver when we do (Rom 1:21). And certainly the whole "Peace on Earth; Goodwill toward Man" concept is a warm one, so they've borrowed that without any offering of how to obtain such peace or goodwill. So we should all be nice and enjoy family and get what we want because, after all, we want it. What other reason would we require?

Now, to be clear, I'm not intending to complain about the loss of Christ in Christmas. That's been done before. And, after all, what would we expect (John 15:18)? No, I'm not pointing fingers at them. I'm offering, instead, a cautionary tale. Christians, don't do that! Don't do "Christmas" without Christ. Don't get caught up in the materialism and spiritualism and family and friends and "peace on earth" and all without starting with the reason for the season. I'm reminding you because we live in a post-Christian America and you won't often get this reminder. We have good cause to value family, to give gifts, to celebrate, and to hope for peace and goodwill. They've forgotten. Don't you do it. Christmas is so much better with Christ as the origin and motivation and primary object. I don't expect the world to manage that, but perhaps we Christians can give it a try.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Second Causes

I was part of a conversation recently among coworkers about Intelligent Design versus Evolution. No, not the merits of either case, but the concept of the two. My engineer associate told me he would not consider God as a possible answer to origins. That was just right out. No possibility. He offered a couple reasons. First, the theory of God is untestable. Um, well, okay, if you say so. More importantly, if the answer is "God", then we will not ask any more questions. It terminates the search.

I haven't figured out why. Maybe it's because I think in terms of First and second causes. What's that? Well, logic dictates that all effects have to have a cause. Rather than an infinite regression of prior causes, there must, then, be a First Cause. This First Cause would be an uncaused cause, not an effect. It would be what Aristotle termed the "First Mover". Without this uncaused cause, this first mover, there is no answer to the question how anything exists or anything moves. Because "a body at rest tends to stay at rest." Science rooted in materialism demands no First Cause and then has to argue that all that exists came into being from nothing and the Big Bang is a blatant violation of the Law of Inertia. Thus, they refuse to admit the singularity of God and embrace uncritically the singularity of the Big Bang. They argue "Nothing + Time = Everything". We argue "God + Nothing = Everything". And we're the irrational ones.

Rationally, then, there are good reasons to believe that there is a First Cause who would be, by definition, God. Logically for morality to have any binding basis, there would have to be a Prime Lawgiver who would be, by definition, God. It is reasonable to conclude that there is a God and that this God is the First Cause. But, it would be irrational to conclude, "Well, then, we will not ask any more questions." Why wouldn't we?

You see, "First Cause" implies, even demands "second causes". A "first" without a "second" (at least) is a meaningless term. And we who believe that God is the First Cause also assume He uses second causes. What are second causes? Well, that would be whatever tools He uses. If He wanted to drop a safe on your car, He would use gravity. Second cause. His will was first; the safe falling by gravity was second. Or let me try a biblical example. In 1 Kings Ahab died when "a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel in a joint of the armor." (1 Kings 22:34). Of course, the event begs the question. Why was the king on the battlefield? Well, as it turns out, he went to battle because his prophets told him he would win (1 Kings 22:12). Okay, so a cause of his death was the arrow, but a prior cause was his prophets who, apparently, were false prophets. So, why did they mess that up so bad? Micaiah tells us that God wanted Ahab to die in battle (1 Kings 22:20). So "the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you." (1 Kings 22:23). So a deceiving spirit caused the prophets to fail, and the deceiving spirit was sent by God. Ah! First Cause. Ahab died from an arrow in the chest because God wanted it so. God used 1) a deceiving spirit 2) in the mouths of Ahab's prophets to 3) get him to the battlefield where 4) a random arrow could kill him. Now that is a string of second causes.

So, here's the thing. If I believe that God is that bottom-line answer to the question of origins, that does not mean we stop asking questions. How did God do it? What processes did He use? When did He accomplish it? Why did He do it? Lots and lots of questions. Some are theological, some philosophical, some historical, and some scientific. Lots of ways to go. So just because God is the final answer does not require that we stop asking questions. In fact, it was this concept that originated modern science as Christians sought to use science to think God's thoughts after Him.

Have you ever heard that objection? "If God's the answer, it short-circuits the questions." Don't believe it. However, the converse is true. If God cannot be the answer, then you may just be removing the genuine answer. And that seems like a poor scientific method.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Think, Love, Live

You remember this story from Matthew. A Pharisee--a lawyer--asked Jesus a question.
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matt 22:36-40)
Now, of course, there is a lot to say about this simple response from Christ. In it we have "the whole Law and the Prophets". We have the two greatest commandments. We have actually the single commandment over all--love. We have this singular command to love God "with all your mind" (rather than the currently more popular "without thinking much"). There is lots of good stuff in there.

I noted something, however, that I never caught before and never heard anyone mention before. It's right there in "the great and foremost commandment". We all know that we are commanded to love God. Mission One. Top of the list. Got it. We're supposed to do this with all that is within us--heart, soul, mind ... everything. Got it. But look at the interesting connection there. In Jesus's statement of the Great Commandment in the Law, He links "love" with heart, soul, and mind. Now, we're all pretty comfortable with thinking of love connected with the heart and even love connected with the soul. How often do you connect love with the mind?

This is the same connection Paul made in 1 Corinthans 8. "Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies." (1 Cor 8:1). Now, we've established that the Bible favors knowledge, so Paul is not saying, "Be ignorant." He's saying that knowledge without love makes you arrogant. Conversely, then, knowledge with love is good. That's the connection--right thinking that loves. Using our minds to love God. That's the idea in the Great Commandment. Think to the glory of God.

We have this trite "Live, laugh, love" motto floating around these days popularized by, of all things, a chef. Perhaps we need to use a different model. Perhaps we ought to consider "Think, love, live" as a Christian version. Certainly the notion of connecting thinking with love might be a new idea for some. But Jesus seemed to make that connection. Shouldn't we?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Repudiating Scripture

Recently we had a discussion about the claim that Jesus repudiated Scripture. I didn't see it at the time, but days later an article by no one less than Greg Boyd took on the same topic. Now I, of course, held that Jesus did not repudiate Scripture while people like Peter Enns and commenter Naum disagreed ... disagreed with me, not Boyd. Boyd (et al.), you see, is quite sure that Jesus overturned God's Word in the Old Testament.

It's a devastating concept. Embraced by some, it leaves me no place to stand. Interestingly, Boyd sees it, too, but doesn't seem to notice. "Jesus," he writes, "is not merely repudiating three verses of the OT. He is, at least indirectly, undermining the inherent violence of all retributive laws in the OT." Boyd is arguing (as if it's a good thing) that all of God's laws that included "inherent violence" (like death for adultery or hell for sinners) were repudiated by the Son. Boyd goes on to agree with another author, C. S. Cowles, who argues further down this logical rabbit hole that Jesus repudiates at the same time all of God's genocidal commands. Jesus "stands in tension with every OT narrative in which Yahweh is depicted as acting or sanctioning violence." Get that? When God ordered Israel to take Canaan, He was wrong. When He ordered them to kill the Amalekites, He was wrong. Boyd talks about the time when the disciples asked Jesus to call down fire on a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54-55) and He rebuked them. Boyd makes this astounding statement: "As shocking as it is, this episode clearly suggests that Jesus regarded Elijah's enemy-destroying supernatural feat to be ungodly, if not demonic." Think about that. The Spirit in Elijah and Elisha and John the Baptist was "ungodly, if not demonic."

Perhaps now you see how the notion leaves me nowhere to stand. God the Son has either declared that God the Father is "ungodly, if not demonic" or that the Word of God cannot be trusted--you know, the Word that Jesus said would never pass away (Matt 5:18-19). That's it. We're done. We can know nothing. Nothing of God, nothing of Christ, nothing of Christianity. There is no ground on which to stand. Especially since Jesus said, "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:19). Because Boyd et al. are arguing that Jesus annulled commandments, sealing His own fate as "least in the kingdom of heaven."

Of course, I cannot go there, as happy as others seem to be with it. Perhaps you can see why.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Inimitable

You've heard of that which is "inimitable". That is, it can't be imitated. It is typically intended as a compliment, a recognition of that which is truly unique. "There's no one like her." That's the idea. Now, in the history of humans, if there was ever anyone that fell in the "truly unique" category--the "inimitable"--I would think it would be Jesus Christ. I mean, who could possibly be like Him? He is the God-Man, God Incarnate, the perfect Son of God. We even write His personal pronouns with capital letters because He is not like us. Jesus is the inimitable. And yet ... we are supposed to be "conformed to the image of His Son." We are commanded to be "imitators of God, as beloved children." (Eph 5:1). How is that for a tall order?

Paul saw it as such, so he broke it down for us. He wrote, "I urge you, then, be imitators of me." (1 Cor 4:16). Oh, now, see? That's not as difficult. Paul was not Christ. But you have to admit it sounds a little ... arrogant. "Imitate me and you'll be like Christ." And it might be arrogant, except Paul clarifies. "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Cor 11:1). And that's something different. Paul commends the Thessalonians when he says "you became imitators of us and of the Lord" (1 Thess 1:6). "Us and." Because Paul is imitating Christ and they were imitating Paul, they were imitators of Paul and of the Lord. And that's good.

I've always had this flight response to Paul's encouragement to "imitate me". I mean, it's all well and good for a super-saint like him to say it. But whatever you do, don't imitate me. I am not a prime example. Now, to be fair, Paul was not saying, "Do everything I do." He said, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." That is, "When what I do and say and think and feel is an accurate imitation of Christ, imitate that." Because Paul was not shy in admitting his own faults. So it wasn't "imitate everything about me." And so, in the final analysis, the aim from Paul for his readers and from God for His readers is that we imitate Christ. You know, the Christ we've just determined was inimitable.

A few thoughts, then. First, the Christian walk is all about doing the impossible. We are to be holy, something we cannot accomplish on our own. We are to be perfect, something we cannot achieve. We are to work out our salvation as if we have that capability in ourselves. We don't. And that's okay. Because everything we are commanded to do and cannot actually do is properly satisfied by God's work in us. "It is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13). That is the means for us to do the impossible. God, working in us, provides both motivation ("will") and empowerment ("do"). Nothing more is needed. Get your legs moving and walk as Jesus walked. Cooperate with God and do the impossible ... daily.

Second, Scripture calls us to imitate Christ, but it does so by means of surrogates. Paul was a surrogate. "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." We are to be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Heb 6:12). The author of Hebrews says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Heb 13:7). Christ is difficult to imitate, perhaps, but we have examples of Christ in people who are imitating Christ. Imitate them.

Finally, in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul reminded them that while he was with them, he didn't rely on them for food; he worked. "It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate." (2 Thess 3:9). I told you that I'm always a bit disturbed by Paul's "imitate me". That's because I think, "Don't imitate me!" And I would like to encourage you as I am encouraging me to become imitable. One definition of the word "imitable" is "worthy of imitation." Are you imitable? Are you someone in whom others can see Christ? Are your attitudes, your actions, your thoughts, your behaviors an imitation of the Savior? Could you say to someone, "Imitate me." I'm pretty sure we cannot, but what we all can and should say is "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." And then, of course, we set about being imitators of Christ. You who are disciples of Christ have Christ in you (Col 1:27). Make your life a reflection of that truth.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving, 2014

On one hand:
Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom 1:21)

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy ... (2 Tim 3:2)
A failure to give thanks to God results in futile thinking, foolish hearts, and sin.

On the other hand:
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. (Psa 95:2)

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. (1 Tim 4:4)

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

I will give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. (Psa 7:17)

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. (Psa 100:4)

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Col 3:17)

In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)

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

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:20)

Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. (Heb 13:15)

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Col 3:15)

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever ... (Psa 136:1-3) (No, seriously, you're going to need to go to Psalm 136 to get the entire chapter because it is the longest run-on sentence on why to thank God that I've ever seen.)

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High. (Psa 92:1)

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Col 4:2)
I'm sensing a trend here. "Ungrateful" ... bad. "Grateful" ... good. And it's a good day to think about it, isn't it? Well, every day is a good day to think about that. So, let's.