Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"What's My Motivation?"

Have you ever heard an actor ask that? "What's my motivation?" They're trying to figure out why their character acts a certain way. It's an acting technique. In life, unfortunately, it's a question we often don't ask.

We have a problem. We are humans. See? Okay, I'll explain.

Humans are born sinners (Psa 51:5; Eph 2:1-3; Rom 5:12; Psa 58:3; Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21). We are "by nature children of wrath" (Eph 2:3). We have wicked, deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9). We are in bad shape from the start. So then people come along and tell us, "You need to be good." Our parents say, "Behave" and our teachers say, "Behave" and our government says, "Behave" and our pastors say, "Behave" and so we try. The problem, of course, is that this goes against our nature. The problem is not behavior; the problem is internal.

Well, we try to overcome this internal problem by providing motivation to be something else. We might point out that there are rewards if you behave and there are consequences if you don't. Motivation. But it is motivation that appeals to that inner problem ... where I am the center of the universe. And when that consequence or reward changes -- "I got a better offer from sin" -- then so does the behavior. The problem, you see, is an inner problem, and schemes and plans and techniques and methods don't address the actual problem.

Time Magazine has put out a story about the problem of ineffectual fitness trackers. The problem isn't that they don't track properly. That's a different problem. The problem is that they don't improve fitness. Turns out that persuading people to exercise is hard and giving them an expensive fitness tracker to accomplish it doesn't work. They've even found that paying people to do it doesn't work. In one study, 90% of those tested stopped using the fitness tracker. There were no differences in health outcomes. In another study they saw that those who wore a fitness tracker lost less weight than those who did not. The problem? Motivation. Fitness trackers are measurement devices, but they are not motivators. If you are motivated, they might be helpful to assist you in doing what you're motivated to do by providing feedback. They don't do anything to get you to want to do what's right.

We know this is true from other things. Showing graphic images of aborted babies should have changed things, but we're still aborting babies. Cigarette manufacturers are forced to put graphic warnings on their product about all the horrible things that happen to people who smoke, but people still smoke. No one is unclear about the dangers of drinking and driving, but people still drink and drive. There are laws and warnings everywhere about texting and driving, but ... well, you get the idea. In the same way, a "read through the Bible" plan won't motivate you to read through the Bible. Tools can be useful, but they don't use themselves. Only people who are already motivated use them. And humans, as sinners, are often not motivated.

The problem, then, is not tools. You're not overweight because you don't have a Fitbit and you're not healthy because you do. It isn't better education or better training. It isn't better methods like more friendly church services, better music, or a hip youth leader. The problem is a heart problem and the solution is not better tools. The solution is a changed heart. That's Someone else's job (Ezek 36:26).

Monday, January 16, 2017

Love Fervently

We know we are supposed to love God and love our neighbors. We know we are even supposed to love our enemies. We know we are to love our spouses and our families. Lots of love going on here. So it is no surprise that we are not told merely to love but to "fervently love".
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23)
That's interesting, isn't it? The command here is not to fervently love your wife or fervently love your neighbor. The command here is to fervently love the brethren. It is to be a sincere love, a love from the heart. In fact, it says that this is a primary function of believers. Peter says, "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart ..." That "since" and "for" indicate reasons. On the basis of A, do B. What is A? You have in obedience to the truth purified your souls. Purified your souls for what? For a sincere love of the brethren. What is B? On the basis of A, fervently love one another from the heart. Cause and effect.

Christianity, especially in America, has succumbed to the "me" kind of thinking. You'll find all sorts of worship songs about "me" and what He has done for "me" and how much He loves "me". We are fond of saying, "He died for me." This isn't all false, but it becomes problematic when it makes "me" the center of this relationship. So Christianity has largely moved from "us" and "we" to "me" and in that move you'll hear a lot of "I don't need the church to worship Christ." You'll hear a lot of "I feel closer to God in a forest than in a church." And this is missing the point. Peter is saying that the reason we turned our lives over to Christ ("In obedience to the truth purified your souls") is to have a sincere love of the brethren. That ought to cause you to love them fervently. And you can't do that alone in the woods. It's not the point.

We were called to love one another -- believers. We were told it was the hallmark of believers (John 13:35). And still we buy that lie that the key relationship is between me and Christ and we don't need anyone else in this. The key relationship is with Christ, but that relationship demands that we love one another and we do so fervently from the heart. Try to do that without close relationships and constant interactions and involvement with other believers. That wouldn't make any sense.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Spectators, not Participants

"Church" has shifted its meaning. When we use the word we likely think of that building on the corner where Christians gather. If we're thinking, we might also think of the entire group of Christians down through the ages, the "Church" with a capital C. But what we've forgotten is the actual intent of the word translated "church" in our Bibles.

Jesus used the word first. "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (Matt 16:18) That was it -- "My church". "My ἐκκλησία." "My ekklēsia." "Stan, we've told you this before. It's all Greek to us." Yes, indeed. The word referred to the "called out" ones. Oh, wait, hang on. Where's the building on the corner? Where's the monolith of historical Christendom? No, "church" was neither of those. "Church" refers to the corporate group known as "the elect", those specially called out by God to be His own.

When you see this, the contrast between gathering together of those who are Christ's for the purpose of loving relationship, fellowship, rebuke, exhortation, edification, worship, mutual support, bearing one another's burdens, stimulating one another to love and good deeds, and so on with today's version might be drastic. Today we are perfectly happy attending church. It isn't necessarily an immersion; it's just something we do. Go, sing some songs, hear a good sermon (hopefully), "get fed spiritually", maybe greet a few friends, and then go home. Not really the same thing, are they?

Take, for instance, music in church. Scripture records that on the night that Jesus was arrested, Scripture records, "After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." (Matt 26:30) Traditionally drawn from the Psalms -- especially Psalms 113-118 -- the word refers generally to any song of worship. Paul and Silas sung hymns in prison (Acts 16:25). Paul included them as part of the standard worship gathering (1 Cor 14:26). There he said, "Let all things be done for edification." Paul commanded in both Ephesians and Colossians to speak to one another with hymns (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

Somehow, then, it all seems quite strange how we've become more and more spectators rather than participants in church -- the gathering of the elect. Somehow we've absorbed a different perspective on music -- the world's perspective. More and more churches are treating music as performance rather than participation. We specialize with bands and musicians and singers. We turn up the volume and turn down the lights like any good concert. We've bought the idea that innovation is good in itself, where newer is better -- out with the old; in with the new. Not because it is better, but because innovation is good. We make music about quality rather than content. In doing it, we introduce syncretism. Syncretism is the blending of practices. For example, when Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in the Caribbean, they found it easier to blend the religion of the islands with the religion of Catholicism than try to make them change. The result is Santeria, a mixture of Catholism and pantheistic spiritism. The same blending can be seen in churches when the world's "Let's use music to entertain and amuse" bleeds into the church music.

What we've forgotten is music as message. Paul says to "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (Col 3:16) Teach and admonish? With music? That's what Paul says. It is a different perspective than ours. We would need to change our outlook on music in church. We would need to select music for worshipers, not singers. We would need to emphasize the performers rather than the performance because the performers are the congregation, not the leaders. We would have to aim at teaching rather than performing. That would require minimizing performance in the front instead of the careful staging, lighting, and presentation so many go for today. We would need to have a focus on the congregation, engaging them rather than putting on a good show. We would aim for worship rather than "good sound" and "good feelings".

Does worship music matter? I think so. Is it important to sing together? Scripture says it is. There is a joy we share when we sing together. There is a shared sense of community when we sing together. There is the unexpected benefit of remembering Scripture when it is put to music better than when it is not. There are lots of benefits to congregational singing. The fact that it is declining in our day is not an improvement.

Church is the gathering of those called by God. It is for sharing our gifts, both natural and spiritual. It is for edification (Eph 4:12-16) and exhortation. It is for spurring one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24) and assisting each other to hold fast our confession (Heb 10:23). Church is the ultimate interactive event, both with God and with the saints. It is much, much bigger than that little building on the corner where we can go and get fed when we want. When that's what it is to us, we've purchased and extremely meager meal when a feast was available.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

News Weakly - 1/14/2017

Hate
Another word with definition problems: "hate". As Texas heads toward their own law requiring people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, the "hate" word is coming out again. That is, "If you are uncomfortable having your wives and daughters using a public bathroom in which apparent males can come and go at will claiming to feel like they're females, you are simply mean and hateful. Get over it. Doesn't happen!" Never mind that it does and has.

Hate is defined as "a feeling of intense or passionate dislike". If the "hate" in this instance is "I hate it when perverted males threaten women in their private spaces", I suppose it is "hate speech". It, however, is improperly translated as "I hate transsexuals who want to use the bathroom." The two are not necessarily connected. (I, for instance, have run into apparently biological females appearing as males using the men's restroom. Didn't disturb me much.)

It appears to be another case of "Princess Bride speak".

Hard to be a Christian
Open Doors has come out with the latest "The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian." As might be expected, they fall largely in the 10-40 window, that area primarily identified as most heavily Muslim and least accessible to the Gospel. It's not all Muslim, of course. Number one on the list is North Korea, a position they've held for 14 years. Close behind is Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Sudan. The rest of the top 10 are all Muslim with the exception of Eritrea, a small country in Africa claiming 50% Christian and 48% Muslim. India, predominantly Hindu, is #15. So it seems a bit odd to have nations like Mexico (83% Catholic) and Colombia (estimated at 90% "Christian") on the top 50 list. It is equally strange to see that China, having been in the top 10 over the last 25 years, ranked 39th this year. And, of course, things aren't getting better. The article says that 2016 was "the worst year yet".

Now, I agree that the Christians in these countries are facing phenomenal persecution and need our prayer and support. I understand that we here in America are not facing that kind of persecution. But I would be remiss if I did not point out that sometimes it's "hardest to be a Christian" where "Christian" is acceptable as long as it means "Don't actually go along with what God says" ... as it is in America today. Here we don't face much in the way of torture, imprisonment, or death, but if you're going to get along in this world, you had better not hold a biblical worldview. So many go along to get along, and that, too, makes it very hard to be a Christian. We ought to remain prayerful and vigilant.

The End of an Era?
There has been and continues to be concern that congregational singing is fading from church life. The influx of "new music" and incorporation of the world's principles of entertainment are contributing to a decline in choirs and even singing, where growing numbers of those who attend are opting out, consciously or unconsciously, of singing in church. Surely this is not a good thing (Col 3:16).

Media Forbid!
You thought Donald Trump was bad. Wait until you hear about his top choice for the Education Department. What's wrong with her you ask? Well, she only went 30 miles from home to go do college. Yeah, can you believe it? Worse, she's a Christian. Yeah! But wait! She's a Calvinist and she's "coming for you public schools." Thanks for the heads up, Newsweek!

It gets worse. During last year's campaign, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, spoke out against Donald Trump. Now NPR and the Wall Street Journal are working to bring him down. Moore said, "I witnessed a handful of Christian political operatives excusing immorality and confusing the definition of the gospel. I was pointed in my criticisms, and felt like I ought to have been." Scum. I suppose it's "Don't go talking against a candidate we hate; only we can do that." Media forbid!

I Saw it on the Internet
It had to happen. In today's "Age of Empathy" where truth is decided by "I feel", this hit the news. A guitar cable refused to be pressed into use because it self-identified as female rather than male. Of course, Rachel Brooks' story is equally plausible. She kept refreshing her Bible app on her phone to see when God would update His stance on homosexual sin since He clearly was on the wrong side of history on that topic.

These must be true; I saw it on the Internet.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Through Christ

For He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
(1 Peter 1:20-21)
What do we get from this? Well, we know that Christ was foreknown before creation. Therefore, He is an eternal being. We know that God raised Him from the dead and glorified Him. We know that His resurrection is the basis of your faith and hope being in God. But did you catch that little statement from Peter? He said that Christ appeared in these last times "for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God."

Now, our tendency, given our "me" society and our "me" natures, is to think something like, "Oh, really nice! He came for me." That is, our focus is there. If it is, we miss what he said. He said that we are believers in God through Christ. That is, we don't come to faith on our own. We don't come to believe in God and then He introduces us to His Son and we become Christians -- followers of Christ. We don't figure out that God is the best option and Christ is His Son. We become believers through Christ.

It's not like it's the only reference on this. After healing the man in Solomon's Portico, Peter told the crowd, "On the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all." (Acts 3:16) Same thing. "The faith which comes through Him ..." And isn't that what we find in Hebrews when we read that Jesus is "the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb 12:2)?

Peter, writing to those "who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Peter 1:1-2), indicates that faith in God comes through Christ. This excludes those who have faith in God apart from Christ. The language speaks literally of believing into God. Not mental acquiescence. Not just admission of fact. It is a placing absolute trust into God that is required and this only happens through Christ. And Peter says that this fact demands a response (1 Peter 1:22).

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Free Thinking

I'm pretty sure you've heard the term: "free thinking". It is a term almost exclusively used by atheists. It is primarily defined as "a philosophical viewpoint which holds that positions regarding truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, or other dogmas." Odd, isn't it, that "free thinking" is defined by limiting how it is done? The first step is the rejection of certain aspects of life -- authority, tradition, or dogmas. The second step is the irrational claim that authority, tradition, or dogmas can have no basis in logic, reason, or empiricism which, at its core, is a logical fallacy known as the false dilemma. They pit one -- logic, reason, and empiricism -- against the other -- authority, tradition, and dogma -- as if it is "either/or", as if the two sets are mutually exclusive.

It appears that the aim of "free thinking" is to untether oneself from limitations. That seems to be okay, except when "limitations" include little things like "logic" or "reality". The world these days is indulging in this kind of "free thinking" in the realm of gender, for instance. "You simple people are limited by 'binary gender' -- by the tradition of 'male' and 'female' -- but we are not. We can be anything we want!" Except that science, empiricism, logic, reason, and experience all say otherwise. "Because I feel that way" may feel like a good reason to change genders, but it doesn't make a male body capable of bearing children or a female body capable of impregnating a female body. It doesn't change the bone structures or chromosomes. "I feel" doesn't make a male a female or vice versa any more than it makes a white woman black. It makes no sense. Still, "free thinking" allows for it because, well, it's free thinking.

To further add to the mystery of "free thinking", it appears that the loudest of atheist "free thinkers" do not want to allow you the same freedom if it contradicts their views. So the "Freedom From Religion Foundation" has asked the president-elect to keep God out of his inauguration over against the longstanding traditions to the contrary. Why? To spare the feelings of the 70 million irreligious Americans ... over against the feelings, I suppose of the feelings of the other 252 million who do care or who don't. They want to say that you're free to think your beliefs are true ... as long as you don't bring them out in public. This, of course, is an actual impossibility. Humans always act on what they truly think and believe, so it cannot be that believing in Christ would not affect how we speak or live.

I've seen this kind of thinking in many parents. "Don't limit the kid. Let him discover everything on his own." So they try not to "inflict" thought on him (or her). You know, "thought" like "There is a God" or "Running out in the street can get you run over" or "No, you cannot sit on a broom and fly like Harry Potter did." That's "free thinking", you see. Let them figure it out for themselves. Free thinkers work this way. "Don't bother me with your reality; I'll figure it out myself." Except that they typically go a step further and tell you, "Your reality is wrong! Learn to think my way."

So I'm baffled by this "free thinking" concept. I'm not confused by the idea of being free to think rationally and reasonably to your conclusions. I'm confused by the notion that limiting how you can think is "free thinking", that ruling out possibilities out of hand (like "God" or the like) can be defined as "free". I'm not at all clear how "There is no God because I've thought it through and come to that conclusion" is "free thinking" but "There is indeed a God because I've thought it through, examined all the evidence, and followed the logic" is not. Nor can I figure out why it is not possible for authority, tradition, and dogma steeped in logic, reason, and evidence cannot be of real value. Ultimately, of course, the moral question has to come into this. Who gets to decide that "logic, reason, and empiricism" is "good" and "authority, tradition, and dogma" is "bad"? And if God is out of the question, on what basis would anything be classified as "good" or "bad" in a manner that would affect more than the person making the evaluation? Makes no sense. But, I suppose, "free thinking" as it is commonly used isn't particularly concerned about making sense.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Honor

We all know that the Bible commands, "Honor your father and your mother" (Exo 20:12). In fact, Paul points to this one in the New Testament to urge children to obey their parents (Eph 6:1-3), which would certainly indicate that this command is still in effect in the New Covenant. Of course, almost immediately the objections come out. "Well, sure, when you're a kid, but not after you grow up and leave the house!" Or, "Oh, yeah? What if they're lousy parents?" And so it goes.

The question is worth examining because, as it turns out, we're told to honor other people that aren't always so ... honorable. Take, for instance, the command in Peter's epistle to "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." (1 Peter 2:17) You have to ask, "Hey, wait! Everyone? And especially the 'emperor'?? I mean, what if the emperor is a devil?" Surely God wouldn't require a believer to honor, say, Hitler? Right? Well, remember, Peter was writing under the Roman Empire and the "emperor" that he was thinking about specifically when he wrote this was ... shall we say, not a good emperor. Remember, they date Peter's death as somewhere around 64 AD during Nero's reign. Talk about an evil emperor! When Peter told them to "Honor the emperor," he was clearly not saying "Honor good emperors (like Nero?) but don't bother honoring bad ones." So a good emperor or good parents or good people ("Honor everyone") are not in view here.

I would suggest, then, that we might need to revisit "honor". What does that mean? If it does not require people to be good in order to honor them, what does it mean?

The English word means "to regard with respect". Honoring an obligation, then, would be to respect it sufficiently to fulfill it. But in terms of human interaction, it means simply to show respect. Interestingly, this is not the meaning of the original Greek word. At least, not in its literal sense. The word used both by Peter and Paul is τιμάω -- timaō -- which is a reference to value. It means to fix value on, to prize. That is respect, sure, but it isn't mere "admiration" as we use "respect" these days. It is assigning value. Note that the value is assigned. It isn't necessarily intrinsic. Thus, biblical "honor" is ascribing to something a valuation. It is to prize something. Or rather, in the cases we're looking at, to prize someone.

Now, let's not get confused. First, "honor" may be or may not be the same as "obey". It may not require agreement. It may not include enabling. Let's consider a less volatile example than Hitler or that drunk father. Let's say that you have a pet that you value. That pet gets sick. That pet hates going to the vet. So, out of consideration, valuation, honor, you do not take that pet to the vet, right? Because, after all, she hates going to the vet. No! If you value your pet, you will violate her wishes and take her to where the best care can be given. You see, then, that honoring a pet or a person may not include going along with them, agreeing with them, enabling them, or even obeying them. What it will involve in all cases is seeking their best interests, even when they don't agree.

In this sense, then, you might be able to step back again to the question at hand and see that it could be possible to honor your mother and father even if they are bad parents. It would be possible for a wife to respect her husband (Eph 5:33) and, when he refuses to seek help for his drug addiction, turn him in to the proper authorities to try to take care of that problem. Peter, for instance, were he commanded by the emperor to profess him as God, would be obligated out of respect and honor to decline. It would not be in the best interest of the emperor to try to retain that position, so it would not be honoring to the emperor to acquiesce to such a command. As Peter said and demonstrated in Acts, "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) To do otherwise is not honoring to parents or emperors or even presidents.

Now, I realize that there are those who would choose to disagree. I realize that some will say, "Oh, no, you do not honor an emperor if he is like Hitler. You do not honor parents who do not earn your respect." I know. I also know that the Bible disagrees. And I know that moving the absolutes like "honor your father and your mother" and "honor the emperor" to "if you think it is wise" is placing God's commands under our approval. At this point, we are merely asking, "What is the threshold at which I can discard a command of God?" Call that what you will; you cannot consider it wise.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Who Does God Worship?

We all know that we're supposed to worship God. We (Christians) are clear on this. We get it. Anything else is idolatry. But, just like the kid who asked his dad, "Who made God?", do you ever ask "Who does God worship?"

At first look, of course, the question is ridiculous. Well, both of them. Because no one made God and God worships no one. Or, at least, that's how we might respond. But if you look at how people -- Christians -- think, I'm not so sure that is an accurate reflection of their actual beliefs.

There have, on multiple occasions, been discussions here over Human Free Will, capitalized because of the view that seems to hold that God sovereignly surrenders His Sovereignty to Human Free Will, elevating that Will over His own. The claim is happily made and maintained that God has tied His own hands, so to speak, in order to allow humans their uninfluenced choices because this is higher in God's estimation than His own plans and desires. I would submit to you that this is precisely God worshiping.

Worship is defined basically as "worth-ship", assigning worth to something. It is an expression of reverence and adoration. It is a "bending of the knee", a bowing to that which you value. So a man might set aside his family to make more money and this is worship, assigning greater value to money than to family. A woman might set aside her own wishes to please her husband and that is worship, assigning greater value to her husband's pleasure than her own. And God might set aside His own plans and desires in order to let Humans exercise their Free Will over against His own. That, too, is worship.

What do you suppose it is? What element of the creature makes the Creator bow? What is it about Human Free Will that causes the Sovereign to surrender sovereignty? What makes the absolute freedom of choice the ultimate value, even over God's absolute freedom of choice?

I have to say I don't understand this. I don't see it in Scripture. I don't see it as rational. I don't see it as godly. I don't believe that anyone created God because God is eternal, the uncaused Cause, the uncreated Creator. And I don't believe that God worships His creatures -- neither for their "Human Free Will" nor for anything else about them. I believe that God rightly places the highest value in that which is of highest value -- Himself. Anything else would be nonsense.

So, who do you think God worships?

Monday, January 09, 2017

Keeping Things Straight

The report is out. The Russians hacked the election. The Democrats are outraged. Some Trump supporters are apathetic. Trump denies it entirely. The problem is (as it seems so often to be the case) that very, very few are actually keeping this story straight. So, let's review.

The official intelligence report is out. It says that President Putin directed a cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary the presidency. Why? According to the report, Putin saw Trump as more "friendly" to Russia. That is, more willing to work with Russia. They were concerned with Clinton's "aggressive rhetoric." (I thought that was incredibly ironic, given the Hillary ads warning about Trump's overly aggressive rhetoric.) They thought Trump would be more likely to form an anti-ISIS coalition with them. (You know, they might have a point there.) They thought that as a businessman rather than a politician Trump might be better to work with. (Which is one of the reasons that Trump got elected at all -- Americans are tired of politicians.)

This cyberattack consisted of hacking into campaigns. Please note: The language of the media suggests that Russia "hacked the vote", sounding as if they got into our networks and software and voting machines and changed the outcome. This is not the allegation. The allegation is that Russia found information against Clinton to release to the public that would defame her.

Those are the facts. Beware of media outlets that say otherwise. So, what am I to think?

First, I'm opposed to this kind of thing. I was opposed to Snowden's release of secrets to the public while others hailed him as a hero. I'm opposed to Assange and WikiLeaks. I'm opposed to hacking into the Democratic campaign emails. All of it. It's wrong. It is illegal. And "heads should roll", so to speak. There should be justice.

That being said, I am really baffled by the response as we see it. The response has not been, "It's not true!" There has been no evidence offered that the information released was false. The outrage is that it was released. So while a large number of people exulted in Snowden releasing true-if-damaging material, an equally large number of people are equally dismayed at the release of this true-if-damaging material. In other words, we can draw some bizarre conclusions. 1) The ends justify the means. If the end (releasing secret info that we want) is accomplished by breaking the law, that's good. 2) Forget about #1 if it is information we don't want released. 3) We are radically in favor of privacy (think abortion rights, the Democrats' emails, etc.). 4) We are really not in favor of privacy (think Snowden, WikiLeaks, etc.). In short, we're a conflicted and irrational society.

So be careful going forward. Remember that people are perfectly happy holding contradictions. Remember that in almost every case right is right and wrong is wrong depending on what they say it is. You can never be sure what it is. It is not a matter of principle. Remember that while the media has been deeply concerned about "fake news", they like to disseminate it themselves. Oh, not really on purpose. It's just a matter of word selection and spin. Like "Russia hacked the election." Not exactly. Not even close. Why do I think that? Because I'm quite sure that if Russia had released the same kind of information on Trump and Hillary got elected, the Democrats would not have been railing against the Russians and the media would not be saying that Russia "hacked the election". When Obama went to the UK to tell them not to vote for the Brexit, they didn't complain that he was interfering in their elections. Some positions require objective morality and guiding principles. These are not the current positions being taken.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Lord's Day

At the beginning of John's Apocalypse, the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1), John says, "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice ..." (Rev 1:9-10). Interesting phrase, there: "on the Lord's day".

From the beginning, for Christians, Sunday has been the Lord's day. That is, it has been the day that Christians gather to celebrate with each other that very first "Lord's day" when the women went to the tomb and found it empty, when the disciples heard He had risen and ran to see, when Jesus spoke to the disciples on the road to Emmaeus and told them how the Scriptures pointed to Him. It was on that "first day of the week" that Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:19-23). Believers gathered on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). It was the special day for believers. Even in my lifetime "the Lord's day" was a phrase that was always intended as a reference to Sunday and no other.

When, do you suppose, that changed? It used to be that Christians felt compelled to be in church on Sundays. These days, not so much. In former times even "less-than" believers felt compelled to be in church on Sundays. Now Christians feel like it's a private thing and maybe it's in church with other believers and maybe it's not. Maybe it's all by yourself in a forest ... or your family room ... or wherever. "It's a personal thing," they, often belligerently, claim. "God is wherever I am, so it doesn't matter if I go to church." Sounds spiritual, doesn't it? And if they do go to church, they prefer one that is "all about me", so to speak. They want it to be "interesting" and "relevant" and, by all means, "contemporary". None of that "old time religion." Upbeat, catchy, get my feet moving and move me. You know, get me feeling warmly toward God. So they pick up the music and limit that preaching stuff and when they do preach it has to be relevant and applicable and personal, not all that doctrine and theology stuff. Because it is no longer "the Lord's day". When did that happen?

I don't know the answer. I just know it did. People might go to a good church with good preaching and all, but they're still mostly fixated on self. "What did you get out of church?" isn't an uncommon question. Because it isn't about the Lord; it's about me. Even good pastors find their hands tied because even good church members don't really want to go too deep. Dumb it down. We want to feel good about God. And we don't want you to go alienating people, pastor.

It's still the Lord's day because it's still the day that commemorates His resurrection. I'm just not clear anymore how many actually see it that way. It is supposed to be all about the Lord. It's not as much anymore. Too bad. At least, too bad for God. Probably for us believers, too.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

News Weakly - 1/07/2017

"We Don't Understand"
I suppose this story shouldn't be a surprise, but it is, if only because it is so candid. Michael Wear was a White House staffer for President Obama, the "former director of Barack Obama's 2012 faith-outreach efforts". He told the Atlantic that "the administration was unnecessarily antagonistic toward religious conservatives." He told the interviewer, "It's much easier to make people scared of evangelicals than trying to make an appeal to them." According to the Atlantic, "Democrats Have a Religion Problem." According to Wear, the Democratic Party does not understand Evangelicals.

As I said, not particularly surprising, unless you are surprised at the admission.

Abstention
Recently the U.N. put to a vote a resolution to condemn Israeli settlement expansion on the West Bank. The U.S. carefully and resolvedly ... abstained. This just weeks after the U.S. Solicitor General declared that Israel has no claim to Jerusalem. It takes no imagination to see where this is going -- a complete pushback for Israel. And a simple veto on the part of the U.S. could have terminated this debacle at the start.

Now, I know that history isn't particularly important to a lot of people in power (think, for instance, "the definition of marriage for all time" or "humans have always been male or female" and so on) and I know without a doubt that Scripture is of less importance to these same people, but given what history says about Israel and Jerusalem and given what Scripture says about God's chosen people, I hope you can see the folly of this current direction and pray for change.

In a show of tolerance and nonjudgmentalism ...
Have you heard of Kim Burrell? Sorry, neither had I. Have you heard of Ellen DeGeneres? Okay, I've heard of her. She has one of those daytime talk show things, right? Well, Ellen is famous for her particular sexual preference for women and Kim Burrell ... is not. Turns out that Burrell is a singer and pastor. Sorry, Kim, not winning any points with me, there. Turns out that Kim Burrell was set to appear on Ellen DeGeneres's show and sing with a singer named Pharrell. Turns out that Kim Burrell preached a sermon that included the claim that homosexual behavior was perverted, "the spirit of delusion and confusion," and that it has "deceived many men and women."

Never mind that the Bible says it. Never mind that the definition of "perverted" is "that which is characterized by sexually abnormal and unacceptable practices or tendencies" and, given that something less than 5% of the population is calling itself "homosexual", that would statistically make their sexual desires and practices "abnormal". Therefore, her claim that it is perverted would agree with the definition. But it's all good because Ellen is above all that. She ... oh, wait ... nope. My mistake. The "homophobic" Burrell found herself uninvited after all ... because that is the definition of tolerance and nonjudgmentalism others demand even if they don't practice it. In responding to the event, "DeGeneres emphasized that feeling discrimination because of her sexual orientation has given her empathy when it comes to showing others love and acceptance." We must understand that "empathy when it comes to showing others love and acceptance" does not extend to those who disagree.

Burrell also lost her job as a radio talk show host. While it's perfectly within the rights of commercial entities (or even universities -- hers was a university radio talk show) to take action to prevent losses due to statements of their employees, for instance, in no sense can it be considered "embracing", "inclusive", or "open-minded" when someone loses their job because they state as true what the Bible says is true. Call it "homophobic" if you want (although that's not accurate), but if you want it gone, you'll need to ban the Bible and all who believe it.

So Help Me God
On one hand, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has written President-elect Trump to please keep prayer and "so help me God" out of Washington. Or, at least, the inauguration. On the other, it ain't gonna happen. Oh, no.

President-elect Trump has other plans. "Donald Trump's Inaugural weekend will include an interfaith prayer service at Washington's National Cathedral." The cathedral is overseen by Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde who assures us that "all faiths will be represented at (Trump's) request." Of course, that seems a bit contradictory given Trump's comments during the campaign about Muslims, but, hey, he's the president-to-be; he can do what he likes. So it will include Muslims, Jews, and, best of all, prosperity preachers Paula White and Bishop Wayne T. Jackson. Michael Horton is concerned about "Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy." I'm wondering if any Christians will be participating in the event.

Socially Devisive
According to The Washington Times, "Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is promising to veto legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, saying such a 'socially divisive' proposal hurts the state’s image." Apparently Virginia considers allowing the murder of babies older than 20 weeks old as a positive thing and protecting the youngest of the young -- the most helpless of the helpless -- as "socially divisive". The governor fears a business backlash like the one North Carolina experienced when they said, "You should use the bathroom of the gender on your birth certificate." What he is saying, not in words but in deed, is "Business -- good; babies -- not on my watch." The further logical implications are that businesses and the whims of the public determine right and wrong and that business and the public are in favor of killing babies as well.

At the same time, apparently Kentucky has introduced a similar ban which they believe will pass in Kentucky.

I would like to point out that protecting the unborn child older than 20 weeks is not a sufficient rule. It can only be thought of as "good" in the sense that it is a step in the right direction. Preventing the intentional murder of all unborn children would be sufficient. And please note that the reason for selecting 20 weeks is the claim that science indicates that babies can feel pain at 20 weeks. Apparently "feels pain" constitutes "being human" and those who feel no pain are not? Or is it perfectly acceptable to murder the very young as long as they don't feel it? What a world we live in.

Friday, January 06, 2017

A Lamp Unto My Feet

I dislike much of my nighttime dreaming. Most of the time it is spotty, a flickering and dark dream not in a spooky way, but in a literal sense. I can't see well. The lights come and go. Typically, they are not well lit. I don't like trying to operate in situations without light.

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. It is built on the Hebrew alphabet and is 176 verses of what might be called "An Ode to God's Word." One I'm sure you've heard is
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psa 119:105)
That's all well and good, except these days God's Word is under attack from all sides. Of course, the atheists and "free thinkers" (which, for some reason, does not include "free to think that the Bible is true") have always denied it. But it also comes from "believers" (which seems a bit of a contradictory term when they claim to "believe" ... just not God's Word). This has actually been going on for much of my lifetime, like back in the '70's when the conservative Fuller Theological Seminary declared that the Bible was not God's Word, but contained God's Word. From all sides it's "No, it is not infallible" and "No, it is not inerrant" (which, if you're not paying attention, is a claim that "Yes, it is fallible and it is erroneous") and "No, it is not God's Word" (It can't be if it is fallible and erroneous) and, ultimately, "No, we can't rely on it because, at best, it is a human construct interpreted by fallible humans without any reason to trust its words or their interpretation." In this view, then, it cannot be claimed that God's Word is a lamp to my feet or a light to my path. Perhaps it has some things of value, but we can't really be sure which parts those might be, if it is reliable, and, as such, we must conclude that it cannot ultimately be authoritative.

I argue the reverse. It is God's Word. It is not "inspired" -- it is God-breathed. It is "exhaled" by God. As a product of God using human writers, it has the truth and authority of God. To the extent that our translations align with what God "exhaled", our Bibles are infallible, inerrant, truthful, reliable, and authoritative. While they may, at times, be hard to figure out, they are in all matters of real significance clear and understandable for all. And, in fact, I take this stand with many other believers (without quotes around the word) both today and in all of Church history.

So, why do I believe that? Many reasons.

The Bible claims to be God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17). Many of the writers claim to be directly quoting God or getting direct revelation from God. Jesus considered the Scriptures to be from God. Beyond that, the Bible is an absolutely unique book. Written over thousands of years by multiple writers, it retains a consistent message without contradiction. (If you've ever played the Telephone Game, you can get the significance of such a thing.)

The amount of fulfilled prophecy in the Bible is truly inexplicable apart from its supernatural origins. One or two guesses might be done, but the standard imposed by the Bible is 100% accuracy, and so far, so good.

There is the manuscript evidence. The Bible was finished in the first century, and it is the most documented ancient writing of all time. There are more than 5,000 pieces of the New Testament extant, most within 200 years of their original writings. Beyond these, we have Old Testament manuscripts that date back more than 100 years before Christ and are, as it turns out, word for word what our Bibles say today. Consider, also, the effect of this consistency. In the question, for instance, of the authorship of the four Gospels, modern scholars often scoff, assuring us that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John likely did not write them, thereby removing them from the category of "Scripture". As it turns out, however, every existing manuscript of these Gospels that include a name assignment includes the same name assignment. That is, when manuscripts from the same time from Rome, Lyon, and Egypt all have the same Gospel names, how could that happen? I'm pretty sure their Internet wasn't that fast. It seems to require that each was using an oral account or a copy of the original manuscript that included the same ascription of authorship to the same people. This kind of manuscript consistency confirms rather than casts doubt.

There are other reasons. Some will point to archaeological evidence. No archaeological find has ever controverted Scripture, and Scripture doubted has often been vindicated by later archaeology. In a similar vein, there are many extrabiblical writings that confirm biblical claims. These are nice to have; I just don't rely on them. Some will point to the changes the Bible brings in the lives of people who read it and take it to heart. It is true that changed hearts make changed lives, so this is nice to have, but I don't rely on it given the deceived nature of the human heart. Some will talk about the scientific accuracy of the Bible. Before its time, the Bible spoke of a round Earth (Job 26:10; Isa 40:22), the vastness of the stars (Jer 33:22), and the fact that the Earth did not ride on a turtle's back or whatever other means of support earlier cultures ventured (Job 26:7). I don't rely on these, either. It is interesting that the Bible is so forthright over its own failed characters, like drunken Noah, David's adultery and murder, and Peter's denial of Christ. Not a normal thing to find in writings intended to convince rather than speak pure truth. And, of course, Jesus claims, "Your Word is truth." (John 17:17)

There is lots of evidence for the Bible as a divinely-breathed, supernaturally-overseen, book of truth. Refuting it comes easy to many, but they do it by disregarding the evidence, not by demonstrating that it's false. More importantly, if "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path," it can only be so if it is truly illuminating. Given the "free thinkers" and the "Christian skeptics" and the whole "The Bible is not infallible, inerrant, nor entirely God's Word" naysayers, I cannot see how they operate like I do in my unpleasant dreams -- by flickering and unreliable light. Doubt it if they want, but don't expect me to disregard the evidence, ignore Christ, and follow along blindly ... literally.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Catechism

If you are like most Protestant-types, the word "chatechism" is not really a part of your vocabulary. Oh, you may know the word, even know what it means, but you wouldn't actually use it because, well, that's Catholic, right?

Ask most non-Catholics and they'd be a little vague about what it is. It's the classes that Roman Catholic kids are forced to take to get "Confirmed", whatever that means. Oh, if you were informed enough, you might know that catechism is not exclusively Catholic. In fact, prior to our more informed modern times, catechism was prevalent in most groups. Many of the Reformed types have their own catechism. Perhaps you've heard of the Westminster Shorter Catechism? There were, in fact, many -- the Genevan Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Catechism. The Bapists had one back in 1689 and, in fact, actually brought one out in 2009. The Pentecostals didn't have them, but they had works that were intended to do the job. The Anglicans have one.

What is catechism? The word comes from the Greek word for "instruction" or "teach" found in the New Testament. It simply means to teach biblical truth in an orderly way. The common method as in the Westminster Catechism and the Baptist Catechism is a series of questions and answers. So the catechized -- the students of these procedures -- would learn the questions and the answers and, in the process, learn the material. They included Scripture to teach the material. They were intended for children and for the common person. These weren't to be seminary questions; they were just for everyday people.

So the Baptist Catechism, as an example, contains 60 questions for the learner to read, comprehend, and answer. The Westminster Shorter Catechism has 107. That's right, 107 questions. Here, let's get a few examples. This is kids' stuff. You should have no problem answering this.
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:31; Psalm 16:11; 37:4; 73:25-26; Isaiah 43:7.
Comment: "Glorify" does not mean make glorious. It means [to] reflect or display as glorious. Other words you could use for "end" are "goal" or "purpose".

Q: What are God’s works of providence?
A: God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.
Scripture: Psalm 145:17; Psalm 104:24; Hebrews 1:3; Nehemiah 9:6; Ephesians 1:19-22; Psalm 36:6.
There, see? Easy stuff. Oh, not? No, not for me, either.

This is the kind of stuff that the churches intended to teach everyone and from an early age. It is biblical. It is indepth. It was common to all. Catechism teaches serious doctrine along with Scripture.

So, tell me again. Are we more informed these days? Many (most?) churches have jettisoned this stuff. I think it might be a mistake. Given the "Christianity lite" that I see among believers these days, I'm wondering if we ought not bring this to our churches and put it to good use. It's not like we're currently involved in a better, more complete method of teaching biblical truth, are we?

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Identity

There is a tendency in human beings to identify ourselves in particular groups. "I'm an American." "I'm a woman." "I'm gay." "I'm a Jones." "I'm black." Along a lot of different lines, but we all seem to use this for identity. The most common, I think, is family. It's inherent just in our identification -- the last name (at least in American culture).

This recent Christmas that fell on a Sunday, producing the dilemma of "church or family", made me ask the question of identity. Who are we? Oh, sure, we are lots of things. But who are we first? Are we "Americans"? Are we "the Smiths" or "the Lopezes"? Are we Presbyterians or Baptists or Methodists? Maybe none of the above. Maybe we're "gay" or "straight", "man" or "woman", or "married" or "single" as our first identifier. There are lots of possibilities.

So, as I like to do, I look to Scripture. What does the Bible say?

The Bible seems to list us first as "God's people". The reason I say "first" because it was Jesus who said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26) Now, we can discuss what He meant by "hate", but it cannot be questioned that He definitely prioritized being His disciple over family and, therefore, those other lesser things like nationality or ethnicity. It would also include personal identities like "sexual orientation", gender, or career, because He also said, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matt 16:24-25) If death to self is fundamental to following Christ, those personal identifiers are secondary. Instead, our primary identifier must be "follower of Christ."

Close on its heels (because it includes the idea in itself) is being a part of the family of God. It was, if you recall, for this purpose that you were saved. The "good" that God works all things together for is "to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Rom 8:29) So Jesus told us, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) That's "one another" -- believers for believers. Sure, we're supposed to love everyone, including enemies (Luke 6:27), but clearly there is a special love between spiritual siblings in view here that is over love for others -- family, friends, neighbors, country, and anything else.

Our identity, then, is, first, followers of Christ. Paul said, "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil 3:8) Again, let's not get bogged down in details of what he meant by "loss". We can clearly understand that at the top of Paul's priority list he had as number one "knowing Christ". That was above everything else. Our primary purpose is to glorify God as part of the family of God.

Where is your highest identity? Is it self? Nationality? Family? Maybe it's career. "I'm an engineer" or "doctor" or ... whatever you might be. I would hope you wouldn't identify first and foremost by the gender with whom you like to have sex. Is the first identity that you claim, "I am a follower of Christ, a member of God's family"? That would seem to be the biblical one. I think it would put in order a lot of the ones that follow.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Exhort

In Paul's second letter to Timothy, he tells him,
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim 4:2)
So much for "be all warm and cuddly and never, never be harsh." It ain't in there. But what I want to look at is that word, "exhort".

In English, the word is defined as "to urge, advise, or caution earnestly; admonish urgently." It's not mild; it's urgent. (Can you urge urgently? Oh, never mind.) It's not "Aw, gee, Fred, let me give you a hug and warm your spirit." It's strong.

Interesting thing. That's not the word in the Greek commonly translated "exhort". The word is παρακαλέω. Oh, yeah, I know, "It's all Greek to me." The word is parakaleō. "Still not helping, Stan." Sure, okay. How about this? This word is at the root of the word in 1 John 2:1 where John says, "If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." It is the same word at the core of Jesus's word for the Holy Spirit: "Helper" (John 14:16,26; John 15:26; John 16:7). Some of you may be familiar with the term "paraklete" used for the Holy Spirit. That word. That word is translated in some texts as "Comforter". That word. In fact, the word means most literally "to call alongside". Now, wait a minute! It would seem, then, that, while our English word bears some sense of urgency and harshness, the Greek word is a lot more like, "Aw, gee, Fred, let me give you a hug and warm your spirit."

We are, indeed, undeniably commanded to exhort one another. Titus was told, "Exhort and rebuke with all authority." (Titus 2:15) The author of Hebrews says, "Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Heb 3:13) There is even a spiritual gift called exhortation (Rom 12:8). We are supposed to do that. But keep in mind that the idea is not "Beat them over the head." The idea is to come alongside, to draw them close, to encourage and beseech and comfort and care for them. It isn't a harsh term. It is a loving term. And we are commanded to do it.

The perception among many is that any time you seek to call people to change directions -- to go another way -- it cannot be done out of love. This, of course, is patently false. We shouldn't believe that nonsense. Nor should we practice it. All of it -- reproof, rebuke, and exhortation -- ought at its core to be done out of love (1 Tim 1:5). Let's set aside the complaints of detractors and practice love that includes reproof, rebuke, and calling people alongside to encourage, comfort, and support them, "that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people." (1 Peter 2:15)

Monday, January 02, 2017

Seeker-Friendly

It isn't hard to find religion in the human race. It seems to be "hard-coded", so to speak. Atheists are few. And it takes very little effort to find stories about people who "went on a search for God" and either found Him or didn't. Funny thing, though. The Bible disagrees. The Bible says, "No one seeks for God." (Rom 3:11)

Now, wait a minute! We can objectively see that lots of people seek for God. How can the Bible make such a claim?

Well, from a biblical perspective, it makes perfect sense. Scripture says that humans "by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Rom 1:18) In the text that follows, Paul says that God has made Himself known to us (Rom 1:19-20), but we "exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." (Rom 1:25) We don't "see fit to acknowledge God." From that perspective, a "search for God" is mindless. Mankind rejects what he has been given. Indeed, the claim is made that "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot." (Rom 8:7) Elsewhere we read, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14) So, suppressing the truth that God has revealed about Himself to us, we worship the creature instead, refuse to acknowledge God, are hostile to Him, and are incapable of either obeying or understanding.

Now, plug back in that "Lots of people seek for God" line and see how that works.

So how do we correlate this apparent contradiction? How do we put together the apparent fact that lots of people appear to seek for God with the biblical statements that we will not, do not, and cannot? How do we put together the seemingly inherent religiosity of human beings with the Bible's claim that "The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one" (Psa 14:2-3)?

In Isaiah God says, "I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek Me." (Isa 65:1) Jesus told His disciples, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you." (John 15:16) In Antioch in Pisidia Paul told those listening that God had provided "a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" (Acts 13:47) In the next verse we read "as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48) Elsewhere Jesus says, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44) and "No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:65) This puts the impetus on God, not on us. The Bible says that those who come to Him are "granted" it (John 6:65; Acts 11:18; Phil 1:29; 2 Peter 1:3-4). We don't seek Him; we "receive" Him (John 1:12; Col 2:6). It is not by our effort or choices, but His (John 1:13; Rom 9:16).

So, that's how we find Him without seeking for Him. But what about all those others that appear to seek for God but don't find Him? What about the Hindus and the Mormons and the "many" who follow the gate that leads to destruction (Matt 7:13-14)? Lots of them appear to seek for God and find something or nothing, but they are seeking. How do we view that in connection to this biblical claim?

Well, first, you need to ask yourself, "Am I going to believe what the Bible says on the subject or what I think I see?" If the latter, it's easy for you. "The Bible is wrong" in some sense. But for the rest, you'll need to figure out in what sense they do not seek for God when they say (or even think) they are. There are curiosity seekers -- those who seek simply because they're curious. There are those who seek to obtain, not to know God. There are those who want what God offers without actually wanting God. They seek relief from guilt or comfort in difficult times or unconditional love. There are those who seek personal gain and those who seek "treasures" such as "spiritual secrets" or something like it. There are certainly those who "seek God" in order to demonstrate He doesn't exist. (Some of them have been surprised by God.) I think there are many reasons that sinful Man can "seek God" without actually seeking God Himself. What they are seeking is a god-substitute, a god of their own making and design. They are not seeking the Sovereign of the Universe to Whom they can bow down, submit, and worship.

We are commanded to seek for God and promised we will find Him. In order to please God, we must "believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." (Heb 11:6). God says, "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart." (Jer 29:13) Not until. Thus, what is necessary is a change of heart. That precedes "seek Me and find Me." As for the rest, what they are seeking may seem like God, but it's not. It's the benefits of God, the "good things" of God, the positives they want from God. They want the love and grace and mercy and power and comfort and peace and all the rest without the submission, repentance, change of heart, or death to self. Without an act of God, no one seeks Him. After that act of God, they certainly seek and find Him. And the "seeker-friendly" notion for churches is built on a false precept -- that there are lots of people seeking for God ... and that apparently the Bible is mistaken on that point.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Things She Doesn't Know

After 24 years of marriage, there are things she doesn't know.

She stands there asking me "Which earrings?" or "Which shoes?" as if I know. I've told her before, but she is constantly hopeful that I've suddenly come into some sort of fashion sense. I haven't. She doesn't seem to know.

She asks, apparently unaware that I don't know hoops from dangly things or what color shoes go with what color clothes or what "appropriate dress" means. "It's after Labor Day" never meant anything to me. She doesn't know.

She stands there waiting, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that I'm not looking at earrings or shoes. I can barely see them at all. It's those eyes, that smile, the way her hair plays across her forehead. I can't see a thing beyond the woman's face that I love. Earrings? What are they? But she doesn't give any indication of knowing this.

I tell her she looks great with either ... both ... all or none of them. Shoes, earrings, hair style, whatever. Because hers isn't merely exterior beauty. I see a quiet and gentle spirit, an inner beauty, both delicate and strong, tender and courageous. (After all, she has been married to me for 24 years -- that requires great courage and strength.) King Lemuel wrote, "An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels." (Prov 31:10) Well, I can. I have. A real beauty who is graced externally with beauty as well ... and just the right earrings and shoes, too. I don't think she knows that, either, although I often tell her.

Just a few things she doesn't know.

I love my wife ... dearly ... after 24 years of marriage and counting. She knows that, but sometimes I wonder. That's okay. I have time to continue to tell her and show her. And I intend to.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

News Weakly - 12/31/2016

May the Lord bless you in the coming New Year.

According to Science
A recent study discovered that pregnancy changes a woman's brain. Apparently, for at least 2 years after giving birth, a mother's brain is altered by hormones and such that cause intensified perceptions of feelings and perspectives of others. It appears that the brain becomes streamlined, so to speak, making it more efficient at mothering skills such as nurturing, awareness, and teaching. That is, God designed the female body to, after giving birth, adapt the brain to focus on the task of being a mother. Or Chance did that. Pretty smart fellow, that Chance is. I don't think so. I think I'll chalk it up to a Creator.

The Divorce Question
Okay, somebody help me out here. You have read or heard, I'm sure, that more than 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Sad state of affairs. And we buy it without thinking. That statistic, in fact, is one of the biggest reasons given for decline in marriage rates these days. "Why marry? Most marriages end up in divorce."

And then you run into something like this. Using 2015 statistics, the chart shows marriage by age. Obviously, from 0-14 shows 100% of people have never been married. From there it starts to change. By age 31 52% have been married once. At the same age, 43% have never been married. Then it goes to 4% of 31-year-olds who have been married twice and a .22% married three times. At the end of the chart (90-years-old) it shows that less than 5% were never married, more than 75% were married once, and the remaining 20% were married two or more times.

So here's my question. If "more than 50% of all marriages end up in divorce", how is it possible that 80% of the population by age 90 have not been married more than once? Where are these large numbers of divorces coming from? I would argue that they come mostly from repeat divorces, not new marriages. So where is your "Why marry? Most marriages end up in divorce" now? It does not appear to be true.

Honor the Emperor
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is scheduled to sing at Trump's inauguration. Well, we'll see. One member has already quit over it. Others are petitioning to stop the entire choir from singing at it.

Strange thing. My Bible says, "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor."
(1 Peter 2:17) That is particularly striking since Peter's very next thought is telling slaves to "be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust." (1 Peter 2:18) We're called to pray for those in leadership (1 Tim 2:1-2). We're supposed to be subject to them (Rom 13:1-2). I'm looking ... I'm looking ... nope! "Boycott them" and "Resist them to the end" doesn't seem to be in my Bible. I wonder what Bible the Mormons are using?

The Shocking Headline
According to the Washington Post, "2016 is over, and we’re no better morally than we were 100 years ago"

I know, I know, you're outraged. We all know better. We all know ... oh, wait ... that's news?

In 2016 we saw battles over sexism, civil rights, racism, abortion, and religious liberty. In 2016 school districts were banning books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. Reports are out that real wages have been stagnant for 40 years, that life expectancy has actually declined in recent years, that suicide rates and deaths from drug overdoses are rising. Marriage has been declining. Divorce is high. An inordinately high number of people are cohabiting rather than marrying; an inordinately high percentage of children are born to single mothers. Politicians are sexting. Nope, we're not getting better.

My prayer is that in 2017 Jesus will return and ... well, I can ask, can't I? I mean, it's not like Man, sinful to the core, is going to suddenly become a gem. Even so, come Lord Jesus.



May you all have a blessed New Year. I hope, especially, that you meet Jesus in it, whether for the first time or anew, deeper, and repeatedly.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Asking the Wrong Question

A lot of us, Christian or not, want to know what's wrong with God. Oh, no, we may not put it that way. But, whether it's the singular question that keeps someone from God or just that nagging doubt at the back of the Christian's head, lots of us struggle with this question. It takes various forms, of course. Often it's "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Sometimes it's "Why doesn't God save more people?" And there are others. They're the same question at the heart of it. Why doesn't God do something about all this bad stuff?

I once heard one teacher answer the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?", with a simple, "They don't." Trite, sure. Preemptive, perhaps. But there is a point. Yes, bad things happen. But according to Scripture there are no good people. Jesus said it -- "No one is good except God alone." (Luke 18:19) David said it (Psa 14:3). Paul affirmed it (Rom 3:12). So, let's be more clear. Bad things -- unpleasant or some other sense of "bad" -- happen, and our complaint is that they happen to people who are not as bad (evil) as other bad people. Most accurately, our question would be "Why do unpleasant things happen to lesser sinners as well as greater?" And when we put it that way, perhaps the answer becomes more apparent.

We're asking the wrong question(s). Why would bad things happen to bad people? Because that's what should happen, given Justice. No, the better question would be "Why do bad things not happen to people?" Given that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) -- given that God's glory has been transgressed -- and given that "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." (James 1:17), I'm more inclined to ask "Why?" Why, if we have so badly tarnished the good name and shining glory of our Master and Creator, does He give us one, single, solitary good thing? Paul wrestled with this in Romans 9. In discussing the objection that God isn't fair for choosing whom He will save apart from those whom He saves (Rom 9:6-19), he characterizes humans as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" and indicates that God's purpose is to show His wrath and power (Rom 9:23). You have to wonder, then, not why God doesn't save more. You have to wonder why He saves one.

We're asking the wrong question. And, it's understandable. We are really closely allied with humans, you see. God is holy, holy, holy -- apart, other, different, not us. We are in His image, sure, but God is "not a man" (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Job 9:32). His ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8-9). And we like best to compare ourselves among ourselves (2 Cor 10:12) because we cannot stand against God's standard of measurement. In our arrogance, then, we think God ought to be nicer to us. We're not as bad as, say, Hitler. There are lots of people worse than we are (and it doesn't seem to matter how bad we are ... there is always "worse than we are"). Why doesn't God see our great value and be nicer to us?

Wrong question. "Why does He do one kind thing to us at all?" might be better. "How astounding is it that He does so much good for us?" would be good, too. "I'm totally amazed that He would deign to choose me to save" would be a reasonable course to pursue. "God's grace is absolutely astounding" is the only possible conclusion.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

In Defense of the Electoral College

The recent hot topic was the election of an "unpopular candidate" by a "minority" accomplished by this rickety, outdated system called "the Electoral College". It's gotta go. It isn't democratic. It's not fair! And I have to wonder.

First, what are they teaching at this college? Is it an online college, or does it have an actual campus? Is it accredited? All to be humorous, of course, but just what is this thing? So, first, a "college" may be defined as "an organized group of people with particular aims, duties, and privileges." No, this one is not part of the Big 12 or any such thing. And where does it come from? First and foremost, it is a product of the United States Constitution -- Article II, Section 1. (Thus, eliminating it would require a Constitutional amendment, not merely a change in law.) Fine, so what is it there for?

Well, as it turns out, the founders of our country were not exactly fans of democracy. Not real democracy. Not "one person, one vote" democracy. They were concerned (as are many today) about "qualified citizens". And they were deeply concerned about what Alexis de Tocqueville called "the tyranny of the majority". That is, if you could get more than 50% of the voting public to agree, you could make life miserable for the other 49% just by popular vote. So they set out a way to deter that kind of problem. They wanted more of a State-based election than a popular vote, so each State got votes. There are two for the senators and then some based on population, amounting (today) to some 538 electors. (James Madison was concerned about demagogues. If only he knew what we were going to get in our time ...) They were concerned about the Congress doing the job because they could be more easily influenced as a standing body, so the Electoral College was a gather-once-then-disband procedure. And, of course, there was the whole problem of "qualified citizens". Some of what they meant by "qualified" was in contrast with "uninformed". We still have that problem today. The Electoral College was supposed to adjust for that.

Part of the problem can be seen today in the numbers. Over 70% of Americans live in large metropolitan areas. And, generally speaking, each of these metropolitan areas these days vote the same way. Look at a state-by-state voting map. The most heavily populated states like New York and California are blue states; most of the rest are not. And that means that the 30% that don't essentially have no voice in an actual democracy.

Consider some numbers. Wyoming has an whole 586,000 residents in the entire state. The City of New York has something like 8.5 million. That's 14 votes for each person in Wyoming. Never mind, Wyoming; we don't really need to know your votes. But then, dig into these states. Look, for instance, at a voting map of New York. Turns out, geographically, that New York is a red state with the exception of New York City, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Albany. Minnesota was a blue state ... mostly just in Minneapolis. Nevada was a blue state exclusively in Las Vegas. That is, taken in terms of geographical area versus numbers of people, the country is almost exclusively Republican.

"Oh, no," you will tell me, "Hillary won the popular vote." She did. She won because California and New York voted for her. Remove California's votes (both for Trump and Hillary) and Trump would have won the national popular election by nearly 1.5 million. Take away New York, too, and Trump would have won the popular vote by more than 3 million. In other words, without the Electoral College we'd be letting California and New York decide who is our president. Do we really want them to decide?

This election saw the greatest number of "faithless electors". The term refers to people, assigned the task of representing their state in the Electoral College to vote for the person their state voted for, who do not. Prior to this election, the largest number was 2. This time it was seven. And, really, are you surprised? There was a large call in the days following the surprise election of Trump for just such a thing. They were urged to "Vote your conscience" and to switch sides from Trump to Hillary. Two did. Five switched from Hillary to Trump. Trump won with 304 votes to Hillary's 227. Without those darn faithless electors, it would have been 301 to 230. In other words, in order for this call for electors to ignore the rules and vote for Hillary to make a difference, there would have had to be 31 faithless electors that switched from Trump to Hillary (and 0 from Hillary). Of course, that would have put the outcome into the hands of the House of Representatives ... which is Republican-dominated. Not a particularly likely plan.

Maybe not. Maybe we want a democracy. Maybe we want the largest group of people to decide who our president will be. Do we also want the largest group to decide what we do about, say, gun control? Right now the numbers look like less than 50% are in favor. A poll this year said that 49% of Americans think that abortion is immoral while only 38% did not. Gallup reports that 50% think it should be legal only under certain circumstances and another 19% think under no circumstances with only 29% thinking that it should be legal under any circumstances. Shall we put it to a vote? Oh, here's one. Apparently 43% of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement. Vote anyone? Of course, this is nonsense. I mean, this stuff changes. Sometimes it seems to turn on a dime. The majority of Americans were opposed, for instance, to "gay marriage" until the Supreme Court made it law, and almost overnight opinions changed. Shall we really run the country on popular vote?

I'm not entirely sure that we really want a democracy. In the end it boils down to "How highly do we think of people?" If we view them as basically good, then surely we want them all to decide. If we view them as basically evil, then we would want to mitigate that evil. Of course, we know which side Scripture falls on. And, of course, we know Who is the ultimate government. Just some thoughts on that question of the day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Who's the Boss?

Everyone is under authority. Everyone. Well, everyone but God, I suppose. The question is what authority? What I'm considering here is what authority in matters of the faith?

I know a lot of people calling themselves Christians who are under their own authority. Their Christianity is formed by their own sense of right and wrong, their own sense of good and bad, their own sense of fair. If you say, "You know, the Bible says ..." and contradict their view, they'll look at you like you're crazy. What difference does the Bible make? Oh, sure, they don't say that ... because they're Christians, right? But that's what it comes down to. So they read their Bibles by the light of their own standards and come to their own conclusions. "This part is myth. That part is legend. Most of this section over here is metaphor -- like most of the Old Testament. You can't take this thing at face value, you know." And they serve as their own ultimate authority.

I know others who are bound to their Bibles. I will exaggerate to make the point. "It says Jesus is the door, so we believe He is an actual door, with latch and hinges." There is no room for context, for literary style, for variation. Many of these are the "KJV Only" types where it's not merely a woodenly literal version that they demand, but the King James woodenly literal version. It doesn't matter if it makes sense. It doesn't matter if it contradicts itself. It says it; that's the end of it.

I know some who are careful to follow their particular teachers. Maybe it's some Pentecostal favorite or some Word of Faith preacher. Almost always it's someone who tells them what they want to hear. Good things. Pleasant things. "God will make you healthy and wealthy." Things like that. Because it sounds so pleasant. These teachers will pull it from skewed texts and personal revelation. "God told me so." For these people their teachers are their authority. To be more clear, their appetites are their authority and their teachers feed those appetites.

All of us operate under some authority in our Christianity. Maybe it's a favorite teacher. Maybe it's what we were brought up with. A lot of people only recognize themselves as the authority. They do what seems good to them. All other authorities are subject to this highest authority. And while we all suggest our highest authority is God, I think that remains to be seen. If that teacher or that upbringing or our own preferences serve as the authority, can it really be counted as God? If my final authority is my own thinking and judgment, who is my final authority? My own thinking and judgment.

We need to be careful as believers. We have one ultimate authority -- God. He has spoken in His Word in a miraculous and unparalleled way. No skillful reasoning or special revelation or alternate authority claim can match up to the God-breathed Word (2 Tim 3:16-17). Any other authority is less. It's important that we learn to rightly handle His Word and rightly submit ourselves to His Word. He is the authority, not our history and upbringing, our teachers, or even our own clever minds. When we substitute anything for God and His Word, we substitute an idol for God.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Warfare Worldview

The problem of Theodicy is the problem of evil. If there is a Sovereign God, how can there be evil? Conversely, if there is evil, whether moral or just bad things happening, what does that say about God? Lots of people have taken lots of approaches to this from lots of angles. There is the, "See? Proof that your god doesn't exist" on one end and the "The existence of evil proves the existence of God and, oh, by the way, He intends it for His good purposes" on the other. Of course, most people are somewhere in between.

It is my conviction that most people are in between not by choice, but by lack of it. They haven't considered the ideas, arguments, and ramifications. They just prefer not to think about it. As such, they end up with a rather casual approach holding in one hand "Bad stuff happens" and in the other "God is good" without ever actually putting them together. Probably the most popular view of this middle majority is what I'll call the "warfare worldview". We're stuck in the middle of a royal battle between good and evil. We're pretty sure who will win, but it's quite a tussle getting there.

In this view Satan is bad and God is good and Satan does bad things and God goes around mopping up after him. Good enough. Leaves God off the hook. All well and good. Except it's not. I mean, it's popular, but it's not all well and good. You'll find it in books and movies and the like, even from Christians. It largely fits in with the religious views of many groups outside of Christendom. The titanic struggle of good and evil. The hitch, however, is that it doesn't fit in with the biblical claim of a Sovereign God. And if you start with that claim, the logic breaks down all down the line. As it turns out, then, this popular Warfare Worldview is not an answer, but an evasion. To the question, "Why is there evil if there is a God?", they answer "Because there is evil and there is God." Not an answer. To the question, "What does the existence of evil say about God?" they answer, "Nothing, nothing at all." If they were honest, they'd need to tack on, "He's doing the best He can." As it turns out, evil exists not by God's will, but because God has opted out of ending it once and for all and has surrendered His Sovereignty to the whims of evil. He'll pick up the mess later. And, with that, they subside into satisfied silence. The Bible says, "Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases." (Psa 115:3) But apparently that's not to say that He actually does all that He pleases. Some things (like Man's Free Will) please Him more than others (like His own will), so He goes with the higher priority (Man's Free Will) and is pleased.

I don't know how to hold that contradiction in both hands and consider it good. I know how to find peace in difficult situations because God is actually in control, but finding any comfort in "Bad stuff happens and Satan wins ... a lot" is outside of my grasp. Believing that all authority is given to Christ (Matt 28:18) while affirming the authority of Satan and Man over Christ doesn't work in my head like it does in so very many others'. So this notion of a world stuck in a grand battle between good and evil -- God and Satan -- in which we're pretty sure we know who will win, but ... well, this doesn't work for me logically, emotionally, or biblically. It sells books and movies. Popular Christian authors have done it. I can't. Maybe it works for you.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Perseverance of the Saints?

Let me state at the outset that I believe the Bible teaches that anyone who is born again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, whose sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ, and is raised to new life is saved for eternity. I don't like to use the phrase, "once saved, always saved." I think it can be misleading. It suggests that you can become saved and then live the most profligate life imaginable and it won't matter at all because you're always saved. I believe that the Bible teaches that the one who is born of God does not make a practice of sinning, that, in fact, he or she cannot make a practice of sinning (1 John 3:9). I believe that the Bible teaches that we must continue in the faith (Acts 14:22; Col 1:23) -- must work out our salvation (Phil 2:12) -- but that we do so because "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) That is, there are three certainties for the saved person. First, you will remain saved. Second, you must work. Scripture refers to it as "sanctification". It is the necessary result of a changed heart. Third, that work is the product of God at work in you. Therefore, it isn't by your effort but by His. In the end, then, I believe that genuine believers will persist in the faith, working until the end because God is at work, and, so, will surely be saved once that salvation has begun.

There are lots of people who argue against this. That's fine. I can't align their arguments with the Word of God. There are lots of people who argue for this and, while they are in agreement with my basic idea -- that those who belong to the Lord will remain saved until the end -- they disagree with the whole "work out your salvation" thing. That's fine. I still can't align their arguments with the Word of God. Many argue for "eternal security" with the explicit demand that there is nothing more required of us. "You know," they say, "'not of works', like the Bible says." I agree that we are not saved by works but by faith alone, but, like Martin Luther, I contend that Scripture teaches that it is faith alone but not a faith that is alone. So there are lots of arguments (by "arguments" I mean truth claims and lines of reasoning, not verbal battles, although there are lots of those, too), good and bad.

So it was interesting to me to run across a new one I hadn't considered before. Reading in Hebrews, I came across the familiar passage in Hebrews 8 about how our High Priest, Jesus, is superior to all others. The author tells that one way He is superior to other priests is that He is present with God instead of here on Earth, an immediate intermediary. As an immediate intermediary, it says that "Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises." (Heb 8:6) So there was the Old Covenant with Israel and now there is a New Covenant (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). Then it makes this interesting observation about the Old Covenant.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. (Heb 8:7)
Okay, now, hold on. That first covenant was instituted by God. Is the author of Hebrews saying that the covenant instituted by God was faulty? Yes, he is. So in what way was that first covenant faulty?
For He finds fault with them when He says: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in My covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord." (Heb 8:8-9)
Oh, now, see? That makes sense. The fault was not with God or His covenant. It was with the "other party". The fault with the Old Covenant was that they did not continue in it. Thus, in order to correct this fault, the author of Hebrews is claiming, God has made a New Covenant. What is the New Covenant?
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord: "I will put My laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." (Heb 8:10-12)
So, here is the situation. There was an Old Covenant that was great, except that Israel didn't keep their side of it. In order to remedy that, God has made a New Covenant that solves the problem of the failure to keep it. In this New Covenant, God puts His laws into their minds and hearts and they don't merely know of Him; they know Him. In return, He is merciful and sets aside their sins.

Now, we understand that the new "Israel", according to Paul, includes "the children of promise" (Rom 9:6-8) -- all who come to Christ. With this "Israel" God has made a New Covenant that fixes the problem of the Old. The problem of the Old was that the ones with whom the covenant was made didn't keep it. The New fixes that fault. That is, God's New Covenant with believers includes provisions so that they will keep His covenant because He will make it so. This idea, then, includes both the eternal security of those who have been saved as well as the certainty that those who are in Christ will work. And it does so by basing the works believers do on God's provision, not their efforts.

That's not an argument I've seen before on the topic of whether or not a true believer can lose his or her salvation. That is, I don't believe it is new information; I just haven't seen it applied to that discussion before. So where am I mistaken? What have I misunderstood or misapplied? In what way have I strayed? I don't see it. Do you?