Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Well-Oiled Government

Finally, we have a smoothly operating federal government. Well, I mean, on at least one item. The bill hit both the House and the Senate and was passed unanimously in both. Imagine that! The president signed the bill into law and now we have a new rule for the good of one and all.

What rule? The bill eliminated all known uses of the terms "oriental" and "negro" from federal law.

"After months of advocacy in both chambers of Congress, derogatory terms in federal law will finally be updated to reflect our country's diversity," said Senator Mazie Hirono, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate. Because, you see, "oriental" is derogatory. "Asian" is not.

Of course, "the Orient" is a term referring to the land east of Europe (which, by definition, is "Asia") and "oriental" refers to people and things from that part of the world ("the Orient"/Asia), so you can see that "Asian" is much less derogatory than "oriental". Congresswoman Meng, the originator and sponsor of the bill in the House, was relieved that "at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good." She went on to say, "Many Americans may not be aware that the word 'Oriental' is derogatory, but it is an insulting term that needed to be removed from the books, and I am extremely pleased that my legislation to do that is now the law of the land." I suppose "derogatory" is in the ear of the hearer because "oriental" means "from Asia" and she was right -- many Americans aren't at all clear why a word meaning "from Asia" is derogatory but "Asian" is not.

"Negro" refers to skin color and was the word of choice for a long time, even up to today. It includes people from Africa as well as other locations with dark-skinned people. It is now "African-American". I wonder how a white-skinned South African immigrant will feel about that? And, I was wondering ... do you suppose the United Negro College Fund will be changing their name in shame and repentance for being so derogatory? I wonder.

But, hey, our government has succeeded in removing this blight upon the land. Now if only they can get rid of those right-wing fundamentalist wackos, a term that is not derogatory I'm sure.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Dear Church

Jesus's letter to the church at Ephesus is an interesting letter. Oh, you know, the one that Jesus dictated to John in Revelation (Rev 2:1-7). It's an interesting letter because it is ... unexpected.

These seven letters have several common components. They are all headed by an appropriate description of the writer, Jesus. They all end with the exact same sentence: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." There is generally a commendation, a problem, a corrective, and a promise to "he who overcomes". In the letter to Ephesus, Jesus says, "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary." (Rev 2:2-3) Okay, so let's summarize. They work, they work hard, they don't tolerate evil, they test people who claim to be apostles (but aren't), and they persevere. They have good works, good effort, and good doctrine.

You'd think that this would be one of those churches that doesn't get a warning. Nope! But how could that be? I mean, good works, not tolerating evil, good doctrine ... what else is there?
"But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. (Rev 2:4)
Interesting.

There has been a debate over the last century or so. Which is more important: orthdoxy or orthopraxy? That is, is it more important to believe the right things or do the right things? As it turns out, it is both ... and neither. Ephesus had both. Oh, and Christ commended them for it. That was good. But believing the right things and doing the right things is not enough. What else is important? What else, if it is lacking, requires repentance? It is love. It is the failure of the prime command -- love God with all your being. It is a failure of the second command -- love one another. It is a motivational breakdown. Because love is the hallmark of Christ's disciples, the reason we serve Him, the thing that gives our doctrine and practice meaning.
"Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place -- unless you repent. (Rev 2:5)
That's Jesus's remedy. Remember, repent, and return. Remember what Christ did for you. Repent of leaving the prime motive -- love. Return to orthodoxy and orthopraxy on the basis of love. Or there will be consequences.

It's my suspicion that anyone who has been a Christian for some length of time runs this risk. It's my suspicion that most of us could benefit from Jesus's remedy: Remember, repent, and return.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Not of This World

One of the defining aspects of the nation of Israel was separateness. God separated out Noah and Abraham and Levi (Num 8:14) and then all Israel. They were distinct with their food and clothing customs. They were distinct with their laws. They were distinct by circumcision. Paul said that it was God's idea that they would "go out from their midst, and be separate from them" (2 Co 6:17). They were in the world, but they were to be distinct from the world.

The idea carried into the New Testament. In Jesus's High Priestly Prayer He prayed, "I have given them Your Word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one." (John 17:14-15) There it is again. His request was not that we would be removed from the world, but that, not being of the world, we would be kept from the evil one in the world. You can see the same concept when Paul says, "We are ambassadors for Christ." (2 Cor 5:20) Foreigners in a strange land.

So how is it that most of us have most of our thinking and views and perceptions shaped just like the world's thinking and views and perceptions?

Take, for instance, the question of male-female relationships. As everyone know, there is no difference. Sure, everyone agrees that men and women are of equal value, but everyone mostly agrees that men and women do not have distinct roles or gender-related rules. That whole "wives submit" thing is dead and gone. Patriarchy isn't merely archaic ... it's sick and wrong.

This should bother Christians, at least those Christians who are aiming to not be of the world, but have their worldview shaped by God's views. The "wives submit" thing is not a male-created idea; it's Scripture (Eph 5:22-24; 1 Peter 3:1-6; etc.). Scripture says, "I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ." (1 Cor 11:3) It is God's Word that flies in the face of modern cultural views of gender roles when it says, "For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake." (1 Cor 11:8-9) Now, you could get stoned (I exaggerate, perhaps, but only slightly) for saying such things in the public square today, but it's Scripture. It falls in the category of "in the world but not of the world." So why is it that to hold such a position is scandalous today ... among Christians?

Take, for instance, the question of marriage. Most people these days, Christians included, consider marriage a social convention, a concept put out by humans, sanctioned by the government, and, to be honest, both without much definition or force. Did you know that God considered it of highest priority? Did you know that God would not rest in Creation until He had completed the marriage of Man and Woman (cp Gen 1:27 with Gen 2:18-24)? Depending on your understanding, there are various sacraments that God instituted for His people. Marriage was the first. Marriage, according to Scripture, makes a man and a woman into one being (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Eph 5:31). But, hey, that's okay. We can lop off body parts when we fall out of love with them, right? Christians don't debate whether divorce is okay or not; they debate how often it's okay. Maybe for adultery. Maybe for abandonment. Maybe for abuse or emotional abandonment. Maybe for pornography. Maybe for anything at all. But no one is suggesting "never". Why? Because our worldview is shaped more by the world that we are not of than by God's Word.

Just two quick examples. I'm sure if you thought for just a moment you could come up with more. Ideas about the importance of money and sex and power. Notions of how to raise children. Whether or not God's Word is actually God's Word. Oh, and how about the standard buzzwords? "Income equity" or "gender equality" or the like. Do not question any of that because those are the popular views of the world today. I'm sure you could come up with some more of your own.

It would seem to me that if Jesus said that we are not of this world and if our Savior said that the world would hate us for it, then we should be marked as people not of this world rather than people carefully and fully synchronized with it. You'd think, based on what we see in a lot of Christianity today, that we're making Jesus out to be a liar.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Moral Relativity

The story is told that the Christians in the days of the Caesars were charged at times with being atheists. Sure, they believed in God, but not that Caesar was a god, so that made them atheists. A problem of relativity. They were atheists as it relates to Caesar as god.

It has been the claim of many conservatives that liberals have no values. It has been the claim of many Christians that atheists have no morals. And, of course, everyone knows that homosexuals are morally bankrupt. As it turns out, this is all nonsense, relatively speaking. As it turns out, liberals and atheists and even homosexuals have lots of values and morals. They value "gender equality" and "income equity". They think that it is immoral to damage the environment, eat animals, or infringe on women's reproductive freedom. They are concerned about healthcare for all. They even seem really concerned about poverty. They fight against racism and sexism and gender issues. They talk a lot about diversity and tolerance. That is, when you chase it all down, they have values and morals; it's just that they may not be the same ones.

Then we get down to Christians. Most people are pretty sure that Christians have morals. I mean, it's one of our favorite topics. There's only one problem. While Christians surely should have the same values and moral code that we find in Scripture, we don't often find it to be so. Wives won't submit to (Eph 5:22) or respect (Eph 5:31) their husbands. Husbands fail to love (Eph 5:25-26) or understand (1 Peter 3:7) their wives. Mind you, I'm not saying we don't do it well. No. I'm saying that we read the Scriptures, understand the commands, and refuse. We call ourselves disciples of Christ and fail to love one another (John 13:35) or even learn from the Word of God ("disciple" means "learner"). We are called out from the world and then adopt the world's values of greed and narcissism and vanity and lust. When Christians are reported to be equally likely to engage in sexual immorality as non-Christians, Christians are clearly suffering from a lack of biblical morality.

We complain about the immorality of the world and the liberals and the atheists and the homosexuals and all. Perhaps we ought to check for logs in our own eyes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rejecting TULIP

The acronym, TULIP, has been used to supply the "shape" of Reformed Theology, of "the doctrines of grace", of what is popularly (even if it is not so popular) called "Calvinism". Just to refresh memories, here is what TULIP stands for:
Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Calling
Perseverance of the Saints
So, there is is, the "five points of Calvinism". Or ... is it? I would like to reject these five points.

First, no one is quite sure of where they came from. I mean, the ideas behind them came first from Scripture and then were "codified", so to speak, at the Synod of Dort (1618-19) when followers of Jacob Arminius brought complaints to the church at the time. The "five points" were the five things about which they complained (before they were referred to as "five points"). But "TULIP" didn't show up until Rev. Cleland Boyd McAfee (1905) (no relation to the antivirus software company). It didn't become popular until the 1930's. As such, I'd like to take exception to it. I do not accept the doctrines of TULIP. And here's why.

Total Depravity

Total Depravity has a sense -- a feel -- to it. It sounds like ... oh, I don't know ... total depravity. It sounds like "as evil as it can be". It sounds like humans are incapable of anything other than complete and total "awful". Now, we know this isn't true. How? No, not observation. Scripture. It was, after all, no less than Jesus who said, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?" (Matt 7:11) Humans have the capacity, even being evil, to "give good gifts". Humans certainly have the capacity to do "nice" things, to do humanly good things. Atheists can give to charity. Unbelievers can feed the hungry. Unrepentant mothers can love their children. It can happen. So Total Depravity in the sense of "as bad as you can possibly be" is false.

Of course, we'll also have to keep in mind that the Scriptures do have other things to say about the nature of humans. The Bible says of Man "that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen 6:5) Worse, "the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21) Jesus said that the sins we commit "come from within" (Mark 7:20-23). Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6) and Paul said, "Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom 8:5-8) In Ephesians we read, "You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Eph 2:1-3) So, these (and many other passages) tell us that we are in bad shape, sinful at the core, dead in sin. Paul summarizes with statements like "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-18) So while we are not as bad as we can possibly be, it appears from Scripture that humans are spiritually dead from birth, incapable of understanding the things of God (1 Cor 2:14), and incapable of doing anything that God would classify as "good" from His perspective.

Unconditional Election

This, of course, is nonsense. Everyone knows that to be chosen by God for salvation there are conditions. If not, everyone is chosen by God for salvation, and this is obviously false. So there must be conditions that determine whether or not someone is elect. Therefore, I reject this doctrine.

Of course, at this point we run into the question of what conditions there are to be elect. There are some things we can eliminate. We are not, for instance, chosen by God on the basis of our works or our choices (John 1:12-13; Rom 9:16). It is not on the basis of our superiority, either in wisdom or power or birth or other worldly standards (1 Cor 1:26-29). So, while we do not get saved without meeting the conditions of faith and repentance, it appears that God's choice of whom He will save is not conditioned on the ones whom He will save. What we do know is that there is one certain condition: "in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls" (Rom 9:11). So God is not capricious, just picking and choosing without purpose or thought. He chooses on the basis of His purposes. And that is not "unconditional". It is conditioned on Him who calls.

Limited Atonement

This one is a little more difficult. I certainly believe that the Atonement that Christ accomplished on the cross was not unlimited. I mean, if anyone goes to Hell (Matt 7:13-14), then the Atonement does not cover all sin for all people for all time. If, on the other hand, the Atonement is unlimited, then all people are saved ... end of story. Still, how far did it go? How valuable was that blood? I would argue that the blood of Christ was sufficient to cover the sins of all mankind. I would argue, further, that the blood of Christ was sufficient to cover all the sins of those who will be saved. It's not "most"; it's all. In that sense, then, it is not limited.

The argument, though, isn't about limits, as it turns out. The argument is about intent. Who did Christ intend to save when He died on the cross? Now, we can bicker about it back and forth, throwing verses and opinions around like hand grenades. I'd prefer to see what Jesus said. Who did Jesus say He died for? (Did you know He answered that question?) In John 10, Jesus gives the metaphor of a sheep and shepherd arrangement, where Jesus is "the good shepherd" and He has sheep (John 10:7-18). In that discourse, Jesus says this: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." (John 10:11) For whom did Jesus lay down His life? His sheep.

Irresistible Grace

This one is so patently obvious as to almost be painful. First, grace cannot be resisted. Anyone can favor anyone and there is no "No you can't" about it. But generally the idea is the calling of God. Does the Bible teach that the calling of God is irresistible? Don't be ridiculous! Jesus said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Matt 23:37) There's the call. There's the resistance. End of story. Jesus said, "For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matt 22:14) Clearly not all who are called respond. No doubt.

There does remain a question on this, however. Jesus said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out." (John 6:37) Now, how can that be true? In Acts we read, "When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48) That's odd. There is a correlation, a one-to-one "as many", where "as many" believed as were appointed and not one more and not one less. There is, then, some sense in which there is an absolute certainty that, in the final analysis, those whom the Father gives to the Son cannot not come and those who are appointed to believe cannot not believe. That doesn't preclude a long period of resistance. It just appears that Scripture holds that in the end there is a certain outcome.

Perseverance of the Saints

This one carries so much baggage that it becomes almost impossible to agree with. There is this version -- "the Perseverance of the Saints" -- but that's hardly used anymore. More popular is the "Eternal Security" version or the catchy "Once Saved, Always Saved" story. This almost necessarily leads to the antinomian position -- "We don't have to do anything at all." Some of these are militantly antinomian -- "If you suggest we do, you're making a salvation by works." I think we can all agree that we need to reject "salvation by works". On the other hand, Scripture is clear that we have to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12), "endure" (2 Tim 2:12), "continue in the faith" (Col 1:23). So the implications of "once saved, always saved" become tenuous at best. The argument "We don't have to do anything at all" is in direct contradiction to "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10)

All that having been said, every reference to "work", "endure", "continue", or the like that looks at us as the object includes instructions and warnings, but every one that looks at God as the object includes absolute certainty. We know, for instance, that "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:27-29) These are absolutes. "No one." No, not even you ... unless you qualify as "no one". We read, "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil 1:6) Who started it? Who will finish it? What is the question? He starts and finishes it and there is no question. Even in that Philippians 2 passage where we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling we are told "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) We work, but He supplies the will and the power to do it. Jude assured us that He "is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy." (Jude 1:24) Either He is indeed the starter and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2) or He is not. It isn't up to us; it's up to Him.

There are lots of misconceptions, false starts, and rabbit trails around this stuff. When I find people disagreeing with it, I find myself agreeing with their disagreement half the time because the whole "TULIP" thing is so misleading. Of course, on the other hand, I find the principles in Scripture and, as long as I don't stray very far from that, I have to agree with those principles. If only we could just jettison the whole misinformed, misguided, misunderstood TULIP thing.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Everyone Believes in Limited Atonement

Okay, up front, I'll tell you that the title is hyperbole, an overstatement for effect. Not everyone believes that the Atonement of Christ is limited. There are unbelievers that don't believe in Atonement at all. And there are Universalists. Universalists believe that everyone is saved, that there is no Hell, that no one faces eternal judgment, that the Atonement covered all sin for all people. I don't know any of these folks, but I know they exist. And they have their own problems in Scripture to navigate (like Matt 7:13-14 or John 3:17-18). Now, for the rest of us, everyone believes in limited Atonement.

The doctrine of Limited Atonement is a contentious one and I'm not actually going there. I am not going to argue for it. I want to show how you believe that the Atonement that Christ provided at the cross is limited. Most Christians -- at least those intending to be biblical -- argue that they believe in an unlimited Atonement. The thinking goes like this: "Christ died on the cross for all the sins of all mankind." And it's not without reason. John wrote, "He [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) Peter wrote, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit." (1 Peter 3:18) (Note: That's the ESV. Others say, "Christ also died for sins once for all.") Peter even wrote about false prophets who were "denying the Master who bought them." In general, we believe that "we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." (1 Tim 4:10). See? Unlimited.

Here's the problem. On one hand we have the absolute statements that Christ died for our sins, that He suffered once for sins, that He is the one (and only) Savior. On the other hand, we have this absolute certainty that "the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matt 7:14) In Revelation John describes the "second death" where anyone whose name is not found written in the book of life is thrown into "the lake of fire" (Rev 20:14-15). The inescapable reality is that there will be people in "the lake of fire" -- eternal torment, Hell. So, where does that leave us? Here's the problem. If Christ actually paid for all sin, "once for all", and that includes both believers and unbelievers as the "unlimited atonement" folk will assure us, then, as Christ put it, "many" will be in Hell with sins paid in full. Christ died on the cross for all sin and all sin is paid for, but there will still be people in torment for eternity with their debt paid.

Now, of course, no one believes that. No one actively thinks that is true. And I'm grateful for that. It would be an assault on the Justice of God to hold that He damns those who have been justified. No one consciously takes that position. And yet, it is still the only possible position to take if Christ actually paid for all sin for all people for all time.

Consider a couple of human examples. Jerry hasn't received a bill for his credit card for some time. He's concerned. So he calls the card company. "Oh," they tell him, "we received a check two months ago for your entire account. It is paid in full. You don't owe us anything." "No," Jerry says, "I do not accept that. I didn't pay it; I won't accept it." So the credit card company resumes his debt, including two months of penalties for missed payments for the time when they had his accounts paid in full. This, of course, is nonsense and, in fact, illegal. You can't owe money you don't owe. They cannot collect money they are not due. If it is paid, it is paid. To continue to collect after having been paid is fraud. Or, how about a Warden Jones is due to preside over the execution of a prisoner at midnight? However, before it occurs, the governor sends a full pardon. The warden tells the prisoner, but the prisoner isn't happy. "I deserve to die. Go ahead with the execution." The warden has some options at this point, I suppose. He could leave the door open and let him wander. Not very practical. I think he'd have to forcibly remove him from the prison and turn him loose. But what he could not do under any circumstances is to carry out the execution. Putting to death someone whose debt to society is paid is not justice; it is murder. These examples point out the problem of people in Hell with sins paid for. These things must not be!

So, there are those who argue that the Atonement on the Cross paid in full the sins for the Elect for all time. The Atonement did not pay in full the sins for those who would not be saved. That is an Atonement that is limited in its extent, but unlimited in its effectiveness, justifying perfectly for all time those who Christ intended to justify. This, of course, is a hotly debated, much disliked, less-than-popular, even "minority" view. The rest believe in an Atonement that paid in full all the sins of all mankind for all time ... but didn't actually do it. The actual payment is pending, on hold until the recipient picks up the payment, so to speak. In essence, this view holds that no sin was actually paid for at the cross; all sin was potentially paid for. This Atonement, then, is limited in effectiveness, but not extent. It is offered to all but effective only to those who accept it. It is not actual, just potential, until it is accepted. So it is limited in the sense that no sin was paid for without the permission of the sinner. In this Atonement Christ died for all sin but only succeeds in paying for the sin of the saved. And no matter how you cut it, that's limited.

Now, as I said up front, I am not offering arguments for or against here. I'm not laying out the Scriptures and saying, "See? This is why I believe X." I'm simply pointing out that the problem is not in the concept of an Atonement that is limited. The problem is in the question of how it is limited. You can try to figure that out for yourself. Oh, and may I suggest that you don't do it by dismissing some Scriptures in favor of others or by making Scripture say things it doesn't say? Just a recommendation.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Fount of Every Blessing

Recently in church we sang that wonderful hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. Now, I know that hymns are no longer in vogue in many circles, so maybe this will refresh your memory.
Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount I'm fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
No? That's okay. It's a wonderful song. The second verse starts, "Here I find my greatest treasure; Hither by Thy help I've come." Really good stuff.

But when we got to the third verse, I noticed a difference. The verse is supposed to read like this:
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Instead, we sang, "Let Thy grace, Lord, like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee." So?

I find in this song the very key to binding my wandering heart to Christ. He refers to it in the second verse. "Here I find my greatest treasure." And he says it again in the original text in the third verse. You see, it is His goodness that binds us to Him. Oh, by all means, we're grateful for His grace. I don't mean to dismiss that. But when we find in Him the ultimate goodness, we are not as prone to stray. You know, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt 6:21)

There's a real secret here. We miss it ... often. We obey out of duty and we love out of gratitude and those are fine, but are we tied to Christ as the ultimate good? It is in the nature of the human being to seek happiness, to pursue pleasure. When that pleasure is the ultimate pleasure -- the presence of God -- we can do no wrong. So I pray, too, "Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee."

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Gender Questions

North Carolina got snarled in a conflict about "transgender" and bathrooms. Companies and performers and even the Justice Department fired back. Now President Obama "plans on Friday to order public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom with which they are most comfortable." Not based on morality (built on the "harm principle" because "uncomfortable" is not "harm"). Not built on logic because no one yet has a firm definition of "transgender". Not built on sanity because a claim to be someone you are not is not in any other case classified as sane. Based on ... what?

Trevin Wax asks some very good questions about current transgender theories.

1. Do transgender theories undercut or contradict the idea that sexual orientation is unchangeable?

It's strange, is it not, that while the "LGB" world is declaring adamantly that "We're born this way", that it's not a choice but a birth condition, that it's just like race, the "T" part of it is all over the place. It's called "gender fluid". It changes. I don't know if it's still true, but Facebook at one time offered 50 different gender options where we all used to recognize two. Because it's a variable and it is not set ... in direct contradiction to the "born that way" argument.

2. If gender identity is fixed and unchangeable, why do many children who experience gender dysphoria lose these feelings after puberty?

Science has noted that kids often appear to lean away from their birth gender, but straighten right out after puberty? If they're "born that way", why would that be?

3. When a person feels a disjunction between one’s sex at birth and one’s gender identity, why is the only course of action to bring the body into closer conformity with the person’s psychological state, rather than vice versa?

It's interesting in our science-based, materialistic world where DNA says "male" or "female" that the current preferred course of action is to reshape what science can measure into what the vagaries of someone's mind might prefer instead of working at correcting the mind to what nature has already publicly declared to be true.

5. Why are the strongest critics of “gender binaries” the most likely to support gender stereotypes on display in transgender celebrities?

Have you noticed this? They are outraged at our "gender binary" viewpoint. "Who says this is what a girl is like and that is what a boy is like? You're just being arbitrary." And, yet, when Bruce Jenner opted to become a girl, he aimed for the most stereotypical feminine appearance and mannerisms he could find. Why is that? Oh, relax. It's not just Jenner. It's every transgender out there. Not one says, "I'm a girl trapped in a boy's body, so I'll just be a girl." No, they need to conform to the whole "gender binary" approach. Confusing1. While feminists have attempted to throw off the shackles of stereotypical womanhood by acting, dressing, and performing like a man, transgenders try to act like the binary gender they feel like.

6. Why must one’s declared gender identity be accepted without question, while other forms of self-identification can be dismissed?

This one was amusing to me, too. As a 6' tall white male, I could not get away with "I'm a 4' tall black woman." Why?

7. Without a settled definition in our legal system for transgender, how can we avoid all sorts of problems, including bathroom access?

This one speaks to the whole North Carolina/Target question. Define for me "transgender". No, I'll need a legal definition. Because, no one will complain if a female or a male that looks like a female goes into the women's bathroom because no one will notice. And vice versa. So it appears that "transgender" is not "what I look like", but "how I feel" and defining that with any authority is currently impossible. In the whole bathroom question, for instance, I know of no one who is concerned that a guy who has changed his appearance to look like a woman, with or without the entire surgical process, because he actually believes himself to be a woman is a threat to girls in the girls' bathroom. It's the pervert who will use the opportunity -- "Oh, my, I feel like a woman. I should be allowed into the ladies' room." -- to indulge his perversions that most people are worried about. Without a legal definition, that cannot be avoided and "how I feel about it" is the only option, the trump card over all other concerns.

So we pursue madness as compassion without definition, ignoring all the rest of the issues, and the government will force the issue with economic threats. Given the current school climate of constant sexual violations as it is matching sexual violations in the public square, how can anyone think this will improve things?
________
1 I know of an actual case where a girl, raised by two homosexual men, was sexually attracted to men, but believed herself to be a homosexual male. So she had the processes and surgery done to become a male in order to be a homosexual male. That is true confusion.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Moral Anarchy

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was an English philosopher. He was one of the most influential thinkers on liberalism. In his treatise, On Liberty, he argued, "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." Thus, the "harm principle". He carried this principle out to rules of morality in Utilitarianism. He is the source of the currently popular notion that the only viable basis for morality is to prevent harm to others. Indeed, he believed that the good of the individual was not sufficient warrant. Laws should only be passed in order to prevent harm to others. Thus, the harm principle says that adults should be permitted to do whatever they desire as long as they do not harm others without consent.

Does this work? Is it correct? Is it reasonable? It is certainly dominant. We justify euthanasia and pornography and prostitution and drug use because they involve consent and, therefore, no harm without consent. For a new thought, it certainly dominates the realm of moral principles today. Because, you see, we have a hard time defining "harm" anymore. It appears to be "adult" and "consent". No one considers it immoral today, for instance, for adults to consent to divorce without regard to the harm it does the children. "Adult" and "consent" is all that is required today to murder the unborn, so that if there is no consent on the part of the adult, it is murder, but if the adult consents, it's perfectly acceptable.

There are lots of possible scenarios that would call this whole thing into question, but let me just give one that would demonstrate the problem. An adult who identifies as a homosexual goes to a clinic to undergo treatment for his condition. He wants to be "cured". He is informed that the treatments may be difficult, even painful, but he agrees because he wants to change. Which of our "harm principle" advocates would call this "moral"?

The other argument that harms the "harm principle" is the newest outcropping of morality from the left. It is now immoral to make people feel bad. Is this harm? No, not really. But it's immoral. Is it harm to consent to euthanasia? It's hardly reasonable to argue that there is no harm involved, but it's moral. Suicide would fall under the same question, but that's immoral. New York passed a law against sugary drinks because they're harmful but banned bartenders from refusing to serve alcohol to pregnant women because of consent. North Carolina wants to protect women and children from sexual predators (not transgenders) but that's harmful, so the tide of public opinion and government will roll them over because protecting women and children from sexual predators is immoral but hurting the feelings of "transgenders" is harm? This is not making sense.

We have a very hard time defining "harm to others". We have some difficulty defining "consent". Today it isn't really very easy to define "adult". But in the name of "personal freedom" we've decided that "harm to others" modified by "adult" and "consent" constitute the definition of ethics. Or there is objective morality as defined by the Ultimate Lawgiver. But, of course, you can't expect a world blinded by its god to see that as a good thing, so expect an ongoing shift in "moral" as an ongoing shift of "adult" and "consent" make anarcy the moral code of the day.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Heart and Head

Someone once said, "If you're not a liberal by 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by 35, you have no brains." Maybe. But it points out two ways of seeing -- heart and head. Back in 2008, California brought the whole "same-sex marriage" thing to a head. In June, 2008, the courts threw out the edict of California voters and demanded the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This was to be rescinded in November of 2008 with Prop 8 that put the definition into the California state constitution (which was again recently overthrown by the court). When the June ruling came out, a relative of mine posted on her Facebook how happy she was. Privately, I asked her why. She told me, "I just know how unhappy I'd be if someone told me I couldn't marry the one I loved." Say what you will about her reason, it is quite clear that it was an argument from the heart, not the head.

This is the problem quite often, as it turns out. One side will tell you how their feelings are hurt and how it made them feel diminished and slighted. A teacher at a local all-girl Catholic high school is in trouble for giving a flyer to a theology class that points out the connection between Margaret Sanger's racism and the disproportionate number of black babies killed by abortion, and calls it "black genocide". The arguments are documented and coherent. But they made people feel bad, so 7,000 people have signed a petition to get the teacher fired. Oh, please note: only a small fraction of them are Arizonan, the state of the conflict. The teacher was the moderator of the "Right to Life" club, but it struck some as "racist and sexist" to suggest that unborn black lives matter. The argument is that abortion is empowering to women and logic is irrelevant. The problem? Reasoning and facts are one approach, and "how it makes me feel" is the other, and never the twain shall meet.

It has ever been thus. One side typically argues from logic, facts, and reasoning. The other side typically argues from feelings -- positive or negative. Try to make the feeling side reason. Try to make the mental side to feel. Never the twain shall meet.

I have not, at any point in this, tried to argue that one approach is right and the other is wrong. Well, of course, it's likely obvious what I think, given I've tried to offer a logical argument rather than one that makes you feel better. But that's not my point. The point is that both sides need to recognize the gap. Arguing from emotion with someone arguing from logic won't be any more effective than one arguing from logic against someone arguing from emotion. Recognize the disconnect. If you can't bridge it, don't expect any change.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Taking God's Position -- A Baseline

I recently wrote a piece entitled Taking God's Position in which I attempted to answer the question about whether or not God sees babies as innocent. The title was intended to be provocative, but I'm pretty sure the content obscured the point. So let's revisit the point.

We are Christians. We are to be disciples of Christ -- learners of Christ, students of Christ. We are to be constantly "transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). We are to be drawing reality from the source of reality -- God Himself -- which He offers in His Word. It is God-breathed, so by the help of the Holy Spirit, we should be able to see truth there that a world blinded by the god of this world will certainly miss. With that truth we ought to be correcting our own fallen views by replacing them with God's position on things.

The process itself is fairly straightforward. Pray. Read your Bible. What does it say? What does it mean? What should I do? There are certainly important considerations. What is the content? What is the context? How does it fit with the rest of Scripture? What does the bulk of Christianity have to say about it? (That last one gets missed a lot, but Scripture says that we are to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3) If it's new, it's questionable.) It doesn't take a super genius or a seminary degree. It takes a Christ-disciple who wants to know Him.

It can be complicated at times, to be sure, but I'd suggest that the largest part isn't that hard. It is simply our failure to do it that causes the problem. It is our failure to aim to find out what God's position is on the subject and then take it. Take, for instance, the whole debate about homosexual behavior. What does it say? What is the context? What has the Church always held? We're being swayed by emotion and compassion and normalization and the arguments of the world, but Scripture is not unclear. All references to homosexual behavior call it sin. No hint in Scripture ever gives any other option. And the Church has always taken that position. So we wrangle about it and pick up new things and question, "Only 6 references?", as if these things are reasonable (let alone truthful).

Take my recent entry on God's view of the innocence of babies. Sure, the popular view is that babies are without sin, but what does Scripture say? It certainly wasn't a popular view that I took, but I listed Scriptures and gave biblical reasons and laid it out. No one refuted it except to say it was wrong. There was no textual or contextual criticism and no historical criticism. Just, "No." "No, you're ignoring what you see." "No, that's not what those Scriptures mean" (without a hint of what they do mean). Not one biblical response to the contrary. So what are you going to do? You can take the position that you find in Scripture or take the position that feels better. Only one of those is "God's position" (unless taking the position you find in Scripture makes you feel better).

The truth is that we can get it wrong. The truth is that each of us does. But that's not the question. The question is whether or not we're intending to make God's position our own, or plan to make His whatever ours is. Will we let His Word define truth, or do we allow whatever we might prefer to think to define God and His truth? Is it our aim to take His position whatever that might be or is it our intent to allow our preferences, our feelings, our diseased hearts and minds to sway His view to ours? Especially in those cases where the Bible is consistent, the Word is clear, and even Church history has spoken in agreement, do we choose God's position or do we choose our own? I think that the answer to that will go a long way to determining whose disciple you really are. "If God says it, I believe it" or "I don't like that, so I won't believe it." One is submission; one is defiance.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Look Where You're Going

When I took driver's training way back when (the part where you get trained in the car), my instructor pointed out something important. "See that row of cars parked along the side of the road? Don't watch those. Watch where you are going." "Why is that?" I asked. "Because," he answered, "you will always go in the direction you are looking." Wisdom for all of life.

We humans have a tendency to look at ourselves in our attempt to understand God. We start with what we know about us and then project it onto God. It was God's accusation, in fact. To the wicked He said, "You thought that I was just like you." (Psa 50:21) Instead, He says, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa 55:8-9) But we start with us and move to God. We're not looking where we're going. We're looking at us. And, as it turns out we think we're headed toward God, but we end up ... with us.

If you look, nearly every major doctrine of Scripture is a problem. Start with Scripture -- who wrote it? Well, men did, of course. Oh, wait, it is God-breathed. So God did. But, no, it was written by men. All of it is in their words. But God superintended their words. A paradox. Not something we would think up, but certainly something God did (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Then step into the Trinity. Ooo, that's a good one. Is God one? Yes, absolutely! But the Bible teaches three. Yes, absolutely! So there is one God and one person, right? No. One God, three persons. Here's an easy one. Jesus ... was He fully God or fully Man? Yes! That's the only right answer -- yes. Despite the human reasoning that assures us that He cannot be both 100% God and 100% Man. Oh, here's an easy one. Whose blood saves us? Well, of course it's Christ's blood (Eph 2:13). Except that Paul says it's God's blood (Rom 3:25). Both and. Or how about Satan? He is the god of this world, right? Yes. So God is constantly being suppressed by Satan, right? Well, no. As it turns out, Satan can only do what God permits him to do (Job 1:6-12; Job 2:1-6; Luke 22:31). So Satan is god of this world, but under God's jurisdiction. Thus, when the author of Chronicles says that Satan tempted David to number Israel (1 Chron 21:1) and the author of Samuel says that the Lord did it (2 Sam 24:1), they're both correct. You see, every major doctrine seems to end up here somehow. So, if we're going to base our doctrines on human reasoning, we're going to have to ... eliminate all these doctrines.

The problem is that, while we do indeed have mind, will, and emotion, we have a problem. Our minds, wills, and emotions are fallen. Their damaged, bruised, broken. Here, consider the will for a moment. We think that we have Free Will, by which we mean autonomy, absolute liberty to choose whatever we wish without coercion or influence, internal or external. If it isn't that, it isn't free will. (I didn't change the capitalization by accident.) So, we know we have Free Will, so any doctrine of God must acquiesce to that perceived fact. Oddly enough, the Bible tells us that Satan has to get permission from God to act and the Bible even teaches that God prevents sin (Gen 20:6), and yet we've now inflated our Free Will to be higher than Satan's and, in the end, even than God's. We're looking in the wrong direction.

The claim from many is that we determine truth by our reasoning. There is something to be said for that, but not everything. If we use our own reasoning as the primary factor to determine truth, we will be looking in the wrong direction and, inevitably, head in the wrong direction. But if we accept God's Word as truth, both about His revealed nature and the truth of doctrine, then subjecting our reason to the Word of God would lead us away from Man as center and toward God. Now, to be sure, this isn't easy or even comfortable. We're asked to accept that God is merciful and just, good and condemning people to Hell, loving and hating. He is Sovereign and gives us the freedom to make choices. That is, we don't start with human reason, human will, or human emotion. We start with God and His revelation of Himself and the truth in His Word. Where my reasoning and will and feelings collide with God's Word, I'm wrong and need to change. Because if you start out looking at the row of cars that is human reasoning, will, and feelings, you'll end up in a nasty accident with possibly eternal consequences.

Monday, May 16, 2016

An Election That Matters

We have a very unpleasant election coming up in November, and the best option we appear to get is ... disaster. Luckily, believers are trusting God, not human politics, to do what's right. In a sense, then, that election doesn't really matter. God is in charge.

There is, however, an election that matters immensely. It is the biblical doctrine of Election. Now, I know, this one brings up all sorts of reactions, responses, feelings, thoughts and even battles. But it is undeniable that the doctrine is biblical.
- God chose Abraham (Gen 18:19)
- God chose the people of Israel (Deut 7:6; Deut 14:2)
- God chose Levi (and family) as priests (Deut 18:5; Deut 21:5)
- God chose Saul as king (1 Sam 10:23-24)
- "Many are called but few are chosen." (Matt 22:14)
- Christ was chosen (Luke 9:35)
- Jesus chose His disciples (John 13:18 John 15:16,19; )
- "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." (Matt 11:27)
- God chose Saul (Paul) (Acts 9:15)
- The chosen obtained grace (Rom 11:7)
- God chooses who will be His (Col 3:12; Eph 1:4)
- A remnant according to God's gracious choice (Rom 11:5)
- The chosen Thessalonians (1 Thess 1:4)
- Christians are called and chosen (2 Peter 1:10)
- "As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48)
- Paul was appointed to know God's will (Acts 22:14)
- Jesus called His own "the elect" (Matt 24:22,24,31; Luke 18:7)
- "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" (Rom 8:33)
- Paul was "an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God" (Titus 1:1)
- Those who return with Christ are called and chosen (Rev 17:14)
- Paul endured for the sake of those who are chosen (2 Tim 2:10)
It's amazing how many of the New Testament epistles are written specifically to the elect.
Rom 1:6 - the called
1 Cor 1:2 - saints by calling
2 Thess 2:13 - God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification
1 Peter 1:1 - those who are chosen
2 John 1:1 - the chosen lady and her children
2 John 1:13 - your chosen sister
It is unavoidable that God's choice of His own is a running theme throughout the pages of Scripture, Old to New Testaments, without a break. It's not in some dark theological corner. It is constant. The Bible says that God chooses whom He will save in accordance with His purposes (Rom 9:11) and His will (Matt 11:27; Rom 9:16).

Problems of Election

If God chooses people based on His purposes rather than their free will, it's not fair. He chooses to send billions to Hell.

This is a tough objection, very touching, and hard to avoid. Of them all, however, the last is the most troubling -- hard to avoid. You see, it is, in fact, unavoidable. Let's say that there is no election at all (in direct contradiction to all the Scriptures to the contrary). Let's say, as the Open Theist does, that God doesn't know in advance who will choose Him. Thus, God launches this whole creation into the unknown, hoping that some will come to Him and pretty sure that most won't. He cannot choose some according to foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:1-2) (meaning that He knew in advance what their choice would be). He just doesn't know. So why, after the angels rebelled and Adam and Eve rebelled, didn't He just carry out His original and just threat and end it all? Cut the losses. Instead, He chooses to send billions to Hell. "Oh, no," most of you would respond, "He knows. He is Omniscient and knows everything. He knows in advance who will choose Him and chooses them to be His own." The most popular position, to be sure, but it still fails to avoid the problem. God knows who will choose Him and saves them, but also knows who will not choose Him and still makes them, causes them to be born, and still damns them. He still chooses to send billions to Hell.

Election is according to God's foreknowledge, not simply His choosing.

Yes, election is according to God's foreknowledge. We see that multiple times (Eph 1:4; 1 Peter 1:1-2; Rom 8:29). But just what is that foreknowledge? Is it simply looking down the corridors of time (so to speak) and seeing, "Oh, this one will choose Me, so I'll choose Him"? That's very popular, but is it biblical? We read, for instance, when Peter was preaching in Acts 2, where he told them "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." (Acts 2:23) If "foreknowledge" is simply "prediction", then God looked ahead in time, saw that Jesus would be arrested and die, and chose to make Him our Savior based on that. That is certainly not reasonable. On the other hand, even the world understands the phrase, "knew her in a biblical sense." The Bible is full of "knowing" that is not mere "mental information". Adam "knew" his wife (Gen 4:1). Jesus "never knew" those who were false believers (Matt 7:23). We are saved, in fact, by being known by God (Gal 4:9). Thus, "knowing" and "foreknowing" in the Bible is not simply data in advance. It is a prior relationship. It typically includes "predetermined" (e.g. Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27-28; Rom 8:29). It is a relationship in advance, not based on permission of Man. One of the popular "proof texts" for those who believe that God sovereignly chooses whom He will save apart from their choices or actions is in Romans 9. Here Paul speaks of Jacob and Esau. "Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad -- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls -- she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.'" (Rom 9:11-12) This clearly indicates that is is not based on the brothers, but God's purpose. "But," they'll tell me, "God knew in advance (foreknowledge) what Jacob and Esau would choose." So apparently what Paul shoves out the front door they smuggle in the back way. It is not based on what they did, but on God's purpose ... except that God's purpose is based on what they did. This makes no sense.

"This is just more of that old Calvinism stuff."

Let me point out that you brought up Calvin, not me. I've written only what is in Scripture. The only place that Calvin has been mentioned here is to point out that it has nothing to do with Calvin. Election is not a peripheral doctrine taught in philosophical or theological corners. It is a major theme of all of Scripture. It is predicated on God who chooses and only brings glory to God. It elevates God and His Sovereignty over Man and his free will. And it comes straight from the Bible.

The doctrine that God sovereignly chooses people for salvation based on His purposes (Rom 9:11) and apart from their choice (Rom 9:16) is generally uncomfortable, to the point of producing angry responses from genuine believers. The question, then, is whether you will go with what the Bible says or will you go with how it makes you feel?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Glorify God

We all know how to glorify God, right? We worship Him (Rom 12:1). We do good works (Matt 5:16). We operate in the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). We become transformed in our thinking (Rom 12:2). These kinds of things. I think, however, that I can list one that you hadn't considered.
[Jesus] said to [Peter] the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to Him, "Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (This He said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) (John 21:17-19)
I don't know about you, but the phrase "to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God" did not occur to me on my own listing of "What are ways we glorify God?" "How I die" isn't one that springs to mind. It was in Jesus's mind.

We don't tend to think that way. I remember one skeptic quizzing me about the deaths of a pastor and his son in an auto accident in our state. How was that a good thing? He was quite sure that it was not -- could not be. Jesus understood that in all we do we are to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31), even in dying. Paul wrote, "You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (1 Cor 6:20) Peter wrote, "If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name." (1 Peter 4:16).

So, how will you glorify God today? In worship? In doing works to His glory? In making disciples? In reflecting Christ? Or maybe in suffering? Or dying? Because, remember, we are to glorify God in everything.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Very Good

With all the passionate (no, not compassionate) wrangling these days over the whole issue of gender or, rather, transgender, I thought it might be interesting to get God's idea on it. Oh, you didn't know He had one? Well, I think He does.

At the end of the first chapter of Genesis we read this. "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good." (Gen 1:31) Well, that's some statement. You see, throughout the chapter you will read "God saw that it was good" (Gen 1:4,10,12,18,21,25). There is only one place where it says "It was very good." That's here. So what made the difference between "good" and "very good"? Well, it was clearly the completion of the project. And what completed the project?
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:26-27)
The creation of Man was His crowning achievement, the completion of the project, the pièce de résistance. He had created the world, the plants, the livestock, everything. And He finished it with Adam and Eve who would have dominion over it all -- in His own image.

Notice that, as part of His "very good" declaration, God declared very good "male and female". There you have it. God, as a binary gender Creator, declared His creation of "male and female" to be very good. Not gender confused. Not gender fluid. Male and female.

I think that's a clear indication of God's opinion on the question of transgender. Male? Very good. Female? Very good. Male-to-female or female-to-male? Not very good. Others will think otherwise. That, of course, is their privilege. Whether or not it's an opinion informed by the Word of God you can decide.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Like-Minded

Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, "If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind." (Phil 2:1-2) Seems pretty straightforward, right? "I want you all to have the very same thoughts." Is that what he meant?

If you were to look at the Greek, you might conclude it is. He refers to "one mind", which could literally be translated "one sentiment or opinion". In a vacuum, I suppose that would be fine, except we don't have a vacuum; we have context. You see, Paul doesn't simply say, "Think alike." He includes "the same love" and "in full accord", and he says what mind to share. I mean, it's not like Paul is saying, "Here's what I want you to do. Get together and have a vote and decide which mind you'll all have." No, he tells them which mind.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5)
Yes, like that mind. The mind of Christ.

This mind is not the standard thinking of the world. It is, in fact, diametrically opposed. While the world stands on "looking out for #1", the mind of Christ is without "selfish ambition or conceit" (Phil 2:3). Instead, it counts others more significant than itself (Phil 2:3). While it is not possible to not look out for your own interests, this mind looks out for the interests of others as well (Phil 2:4). This "mind of Christ" is emptied of self (Phil 2:7) rather than full of self.

In what sense did Paul want them (and, by implication, us) to be like-minded? We ought to be considering others as more important than self as characterized by love. We ought to be less interested in self and more like Christ. Think alike? Not what he had in mind. Think in the same direction? More like that. Have the mind of Christ.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Standing in the Gap

Sometimes people are tempted to think that I have a one (or, at best, maybe two) tracked mind. You know. "He's always talking about the sin of homosexual behavior and the whole 'gay marriage' issue. Doesn't he know it's over?" Now, of course, this is an oversimplification. But the truth is that I do talk about a limited number of issues and I do tend to hit in the same places on more than one occasion. I talk about marriage (real marriage) and I talk about the Sovereignty of God and I talk about sexual sin and sometimes I dip my toe into politics. I certainly hit heavily on doctrine, particularly matters of the reliability and authority of Scripture and such. And given the vast numbers of things about which I could write, it might seem to appear ... limited.

Why do I do this?

In thinking to myself about why, I envisioned a guy walking a horse down a dirt path. He's trying to walk down the middle of the path because getting off the path would be dangerous ground for both the horse and him. But the horse isn't too good at walking straight down the middle and tends toward the edges. So I see this horse veering off to the left and I see this guy pulling hard to the right. Why? Is he so keen to get that horse off to the right? No. It's because he wants to get him to the middle and that is to the right.

Okay, not the best imagery I could find. But that's the idea. There are lots of things that I don't discuss much. Why? Because there are lots of things that are not a problem. Most Christians, genuine or otherwise, aren't confused about "saved by faith" or "Christ died for you" or things like that. We're all happy about God's grace and mercy. Here, let me illustrate. I've talked on multiple occasions about the sin nature. I've tried to paint a biblical picture of Man as sinner. I've tried to drive home the point that humans have earned God's wrath for their Cosmic Treason, that Hell isn't an overreach, but justice. "What," someone might ask, "do you have such a negative image of human beings?" No. I know that we're made in the image of God. I know that Christ died to save us, that He places His own value on us. I know there are nice people, even nice people who aren't Christians. So why the emphasis on the sin problem? Because the horse is veering off to the left, focusing on the nice people and good things about people and missing the balance point of the problem of sin. So I have to pull hard on that problem of sin.

Maybe not clear enough yet. So I came up with a biblical illustration. In Ezekiel God complains to the prophet.
"I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one." (Ezek 22:30)
God wanted someone to build a wall and "stand in the gap". What does that mean? In Nehemiah the people had returned from exile to Jerusalem. They were trying to rebuild. First on the agenda was to build the wall around the city, to make it safe. It was hard work. And they were slow to get it done. Threatened by enemies, here was what Nehemiah arranged. "I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows." (Neh 4:13) So, Nehemiah, what's up with that? Don't you care about the rest of the wall? Aren't you concerned about the other spaces? No, you see, the other spaces were filled in, protected, solid. Nehemiah needed people -- armed people, even armed families -- to stand in the gaps, to protect the city where the holes were.

That's why I do this. Do I think that homosexual behavior is the worst sin? No, of course not. Do I think that 'gay marriage' is the end of the world? Not at all. Do I think that the only issue facing the church today is the improper view of the Word? No, I don't. But I do think these are gaps, current holes in the fence. They're "acceptable sins" to many Christians. They're issues that many are no longer considering.

So I stand in the gaps. Armed with "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6:17), I'm trying to ward off attacks where Christians appear to be no longer aware of the danger. Or, if you prefer, I'm trying to yank that horse hard in the other direction, not to go off the other side, but to return to the middle path. And I'll continue to do it because God complained when He couldn't find someone to "stand in the gap before Me for the land." Here am I, Lord. Send me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Marriage and the Gospel

Clearly our culture has lost its way when it comes to marriage. We started our most serious departure from the truth in the '50's when we decided that "marriage" and "offspring" were distinct. We continued that departure with "no fault divorce". With these twin assaults on marriage came a parallel attack, euphemistically called "free love" -- have sex with whomever you want. The cancer has eaten away at the body of marriage for decades and now we have the contradictory concept of "gay marriage" as not merely acceptable, but as law of the land. Today, between "gay marriage" (which is not marriage), "free love", the loose construct of "family" which includes everything from "my live-in boyfriend" to "our cats", the constant threat of divorce, and the ubiquitous single parent, marriage is no longer what God intended.

So what? What does it matter if fewer and fewer of us get it? What does it matter if the popular opinion is counter to Scripture (which, by the way, makes it counter to the truth ... by definition)? What difference does it make as long as we (the few) retain it? The question belies our failure to grasp the importance of marriage.

The Bible gives its primary definition of marriage right up front.
A man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)
Not too difficult, but important. Important enough for Jesus to echo it (Matt 19:4-6). (Jesus says that you can be married -- male and female become one flesh -- or a eunuch (Matt 19:11-12) -- celibate. There are no other biblical options.) Male and female (husband and wife, bride and groom) become one for life (Matt 19:6). This rules out premarital sex, adultery, divorce, and, of course, any other "marriage" that is not marriage. It's important. It's important for the race, as the primary and best means of producing and raising subsequent generations, of propagating the species and the faith. It's important for the family, structured as God intended. It's important for society with this family structure as the key component of any community.

It's important, however, for one often-ignored reason. This structure of marriage is intended by God to be an image of the Gospel.

Marriage as a picture of Christ's death on our behalf.

The Bible commands husbands (as a portrayal of Christ) to give their lives for their wives.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph 5:25)
When Paul commands us to "Submit to one another" (Eph 5:21), he follows it with an explanation from marriage. Wives submit to their husband's authority (Eph 5:22-24); husbands submit their lives to caring for their wives (Eph 5:25-27). Christ did the latter by dying for us, rising again, sending the Holy Spirit, and dwelling within us. It is a picture on one hand of how husbands ought to relate to their wives and, on the other hand, a picture from marriage about Christ's relationship with us.

Marriage as a picture of our submission to Christ.

Just as husbands are to give their lives for their wives, wives are to
be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. (Eph 5:22-24)
The Gospel starts here. Christ died on our behalf -- gave Himself for us. We must submit to Him as head "in everything" and Savior. That's the start of the Gospel. He gave Himself for us; we submit to Him.

Marriage as a picture of lifelong commitment to Christ.

Marriage includes commitment and separation -- commitment to each other and a separation from others. It is monogamy -- one marriage. It is union (Eph 5:31-32; Col 1:27). It excludes those outside (Heb 13:4; 1 John 5:21). And it is for life (Rom 7:2; Jude 1:24). All of these are critical components of the Gospel. Christ commits to us and we are His for eternity -- eternal bliss. It's a far better version than the fairy tale "they lived happily ever after". This one is beyond happy.

Marriage as a picture of Christ and the Church.

The Bible repeatedly uses this picture of marriage as a mysterious parallel of Christ's relationship with the Church.
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church. (Eph 5:31-32)
The plan "before the ages began" (Titus 1:2) was that Christ would die to save a Bride for Himself. These would surely come to Him (John 6:37) and He would lose not one (John 10:27-30). Paul told the Corinthians "I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin." (2 Cor 11:2) In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, John describes the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9). Marriage expresses the union of Christ and the Church.

Marriage is God's idea, built on the union of a man and a woman. Essential to God's idea of marriage is the husband's sacrifice of self for his wife as an image of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, the submission of the wife to the husband as an image of our submission to Christ, and the exclusive union of husband and wife -- two become one -- as the image of Christ's union with His Bride, the Church. Marriage -- your marriage -- is intended by God not to be some self-pleasuring institution, but a picture of the Gospel. As such, your marriage, husbands and wives, faithfully represents the Gospel for others to the extent that you faithfully reflect God's instructions for marriage. It's not too late to do that properly, even if (or rather "though") errors have been committed. The closer your marriage and your operation within your role in marriage aligns with God's commands, the better your marriage represents the Gospel and your lives declare the glory of God. Now, remember the question. What difference does it make if the world's version of marriage no longer matches God's? To the extent that more of us buy into that false version, fewer will be able to see the Gospel lived out in marriage as God intended. And that, you see, is Satan's plan -- obscure the Gospel. We have marching orders. We ought to ignore the lies of the world and get to work on doing what's right.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Free At Last

The whole world, it feels like, knows the phrase from the lips of Jesus, "The truth shall set you free." Hey, I even heard it quoted in a Jim Carrey movie, Liar, Liar. We all know the phrase. But ... do we? You see, the phrase is just that -- a phrase. It is a part of a sentence which is part of a thought. What was that thought?
"If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
Context is important. Jesus didn't say this to His disciples. He was in a dialog with the Pharisees who were testing Him (John 8:13). The text says that in this exchange with His challengers, "many believed in Him." (John 8:30) To these new believers, then, He said this remarkable thing.

Having established the context, it is equally important to note the content. Jesus did not say "The truth shall set you free" all by itself. He didn't even say, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" in a vacuum. Notice that Jesus put restrictions on this claim of knowing truth and being set free. There are two. 1) "If you abide in My word." 2) "You are truly My disciples." Sure, these are parallel -- synonymous. But they are two things. In other words, we do not have a generalized promise that everyone will know the truth and everyone will be set free. That is not the case. There are narrow limits on this knowing-and-being-free promise. It is, in fact, a similar restriction we see elsewhere.
"When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come." (John 16:13)
We'd like to think that this is a statement from Christ that the Holy Spirit will lead all people into all truth, "So who are you to question my truth?" It just isn't in there. This is a promise specifically to His disciples and not to the world in general.

So we need to look again at the limitations. Jesus says, "If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples." Notice that He defines "My disciples" for us here. It isn't those who "believe" because, as we see in the context, Jesus was explaining a further truth to those who believed. He was telling them, "Believing is fine, but there is something more." What more? "If you abide in My word." A disciple is defined biblically as one who abides in the Word.

"Oh, no it isn't," someone is sure to say. "It's defined as one who abides in Jesus's word." Fine. Do that nice little dodge. Be a "red-letter Christian". Except the Bible is clear that all Scripture is breathed by God, and that Jesus is the Word. Thus, all Scripture is Jesus's word. And we're back to my statement. A disciple is defined biblically as one who abides in the Word.

This gains significance when you consider the Great Commission. It starts with "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19). Not converts. Not even "church-goers". Disciples. Jesus defined disciple for us -- those who abide in His Word. The word used here is μαθητεύω -- mathēteuō. It refers to becoming a pupil. Not merely a believer. Not even a follower. A pupil, a student, a learner.

You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Oh, of course, "you" in that sentence refers to "you who abide in the Word, whose lives revolve around His Word, who are learners of Christ and His Word." These people do have the promise of enlightenment from the Holy Spirit (which, by the way, would have to be completely consistent with all such disciples over all time). We are not called to attend church, sing worship songs, listen to a decent sermon, and go home. We are called to live in His Word as learners. And we are commanded to enjoin others to do the same. To be disciples, as defined by the Master. Then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Don't count on some shortcut through the world's thinking processes and values. Expect a lifelong process. Jesus said it.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Taking God's Position

And the debate rages on ... somewhere other than here. The question being debated over at Craig's blog is whether or not babies are sinners. Now, I'd love to explain what "he said" and how "he answered" and so on, but, hey, at last look there were over 100 comments and, frankly, I just don't have the patience. So here's what I intend to do. I intend to give an answer ... from Scripture. Oh, I know, I know, who cares about Scripture? I mean, "you got eyes, don't you?" It doesn't take a genius to recognize the "innocence of infants" and understand that the entire world sees babies as sinless little angels. But if I'm going to be true to God by being true to His Word, I'll have to form my opinion about this topic (as with so many others) from God's Word. Will that settle things? Well, obviously, no. But for those of you who, to use a colloquialism, "have ears to hear, let him hear." Are babies sinless?

It was interesting to me that a secular show, the National Geographic series, Brain Games, did an episode on lying. This secular, science-based (rather than theological) show made this startling claim. They claimed that scientists had documented babies as young as 6 months old lying. No, not lying down. Telling lies. They suggest humans are "born to lie". Hey, that wasn't me. That was them. I say that because, on one hand, that would certainly fly in the face of the whole "babies are innocent" position and, on the other, doesn't go as far as Scripture does on the question. Here's what the Bible says.
The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth. (Psa 58:3)
Sorry, NatGeo, apparently the Bible suggests that babies lie "from birth", not merely 6 months old.

And it only gets worse. David claimed, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me." (Psa 51:5) That's not a claim that his mother was sinning when he was conceived. It is a claim that he was in sin when he was conceived. The Bible says that just before the Flood, "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen 6:5) Note the superlatives. "Every intent." "Only evil." "Only evil continually." "Yes, but things got better after the Flood ... right?" After the Flood God Himself claims, "The intent of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21) "Oh, now, wait! That says 'youth'!" Nice try. The word refers to "infancy to adolescence" and is translated in Scripture as anything from "babe" on up to "lad" or "damsel". As in "not an adult." In agreement with the Psalms.

"Okay, now, hang on a minute. Are you saying that a little, one-day-old infant is actually performing sins?" Well, now, that would depend on how you define "sin", wouldn't it? Now, we could go to the dictionary, but, again, I'm working from a Bible basis here rather than pop culture, popular ideas, or popular philosophy. The Bible defines sin as "lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). Now that should get your attention. In this version, sin is not the bad things we do, but simply operating outside the law of God. Sin isn't necessarily intent to break the law, but a failure to conform to it. And while those who disagree with me on this will say, "It's hard to believe that a baby could break the law", I'd offer the reverse: It's hard to believe that a baby could conform to the law. Here, let's make it even easier. What is the single most important law? Easy, right? Love the Lord your God with all that you are (Matt 22:37-38). Is it your contention, then, that babies fresh from the womb are loving God with all they are?

"So," I can hear the next complaint, "you're saying that babies who die go to Hell." No, no I'm not. Here's what I'm saying. I'm saying that the Bible teaches that human beings are sinners from birth, that we are born spiritually dead (Eph 2:1-3), that the intent of the Natural Man from birth is only evil continually. I define that "evil" as a failure to conform to the law of God. I make no claim about the eternal condition of babies who die. I count on the justice and mercy of God on that point. I believe, pulling again at a scriptural point, that God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy (Rom 9:15), and that "it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." (Rom 9:16) I'm content to rest in His good pleasure on that point.

Do infants sin? The Bible says they do. But, of course, the Bible doesn't always take the popular position. I can only assume that it takes the truthful position because, after all, it is God's Word.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Blessed

You know, God has been very good to me. Very good, indeed.

I have running water at my house. In multiple places. I even have toilets. Did you know that 1 in 10 people in the world lack access to safe water, let alone running water? Did you know that 2 out of 3 people in the world do not have access to toilets? I have both.

I have a good wife. Good kids. Can you imagine? Not one of my kids is unemployed or in jail. Oh, sure, they're not perfect, and, to be transparent, I don't chalk their "good kid" status to my efforts. I assign that to a good God who gave me a better wife than I could have imagined and good kids.

I'm not young, but I'm in amazingly good health. My doctor says so. And she doesn't know why, either. That's an astounding gift from God.

You know something really amazing? I can get myself up in the morning, shower myself, dress myself, read my Bible, eat my breakfast, brush my teeth, and drive to work. All by myself. No cane or assisted medical help or anything. Because God has been truly good to me.

I have a good job and a good home, a good church and a good family, good parents, good siblings and even their spouses. I live comfortably and am able to breathe on my own. I have a warm bed to sleep in, good food to eat, a wife who loves me, and fresh air to breathe. I can read and write and even use this computer thingy reasonably well.

One of my biggest blessings has been, all my life, my mother. She is a woman who loves the Lord above all and who loves His truth, even when it's not "convenient". (For instance, she reads, " I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man" (1 Tim 2:12) and accepts it because He says it, even if it's not particularly "politically correct" or "in sync with the culture.") One thing my mother loves, and, in doing so, passes on to others, is an abiding and constantly growing sense of gratitude for all the blessings God gives. What a wonderful gift my mother is.

As for me, sure, I've had this sin problem, but my God has provided the solution to it. By repenting and placing my faith in Christ, I get the incredible opportunity to exchange my sin for His righteousness, my death for His life, my pitiful world for His magnificence. Now, that is blessed.

There is a lot of good in my life. Even good that I don't recognize. And the Bible tells me that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (James 1:17). So I conclude that God has been very good to me.

Here's a theoretical question. If you woke up tomorrow without the things for which you didn't thank God today, what would you be without? Just a theoretical question, but something to think about.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Things we don't say much anymore

"Everybody come to the table. It's time for dinner."

It used to be the standard. Families ate together. It wasn't a chore or a hardship. It was a given. There was even a time when they expected you to "dress for dinner", which was not your comfortable play clothes. So families would share at least one meal and talk about their day and keep in touch. (And "dinner" referred to the biggest meal of the day ... which on Sunday was often lunch.)

"Put on your Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes."

I suppose there might still be some who would use this phrase, but it can only be a carryover from a day gone by because it is extremely rare that anyone would think that there should be anything special about the way you dress to go into the presence of God on Sunday. Shorts and t-shirts are fine. The pastor is surely not dressing any differently than most. If you wanted to express something like this, you'd have to substitute something like "Put on the clothes you might wear to a meeting with someone important" or something like that. Although I'm not sure anyone knows what that means anymore. Respect in how we dress is not a common courtesy offered to many these days ... including God on Sunday.

"I may not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."

In truth, you might hear it among some conservatives, but I'm not sure they mean it anymore. I'm fairly sure the liberals don't. There are a host of opinions, views, phrases, and such that we are not allowed to express and, instead of defending your right to say them, you can more likely expect people to compete for censuring, suing, or jailing you for such things. Tops on the list these days is anything perceived as "anti-woman", "anti-LGBT", or racist (loosely defined, since "racist" requires a prejudice based on race, but the modern definition is prejudice from people in power). The Constitution defends your freedom of speech, but you can't expect many these days to defend the Constitution, especially when your speech crosses the line on these "pet peeves".

"Go ahead. It's a free country."

It used to be that what you did was no skin off my nose. "You don't believe you can participate in a wedding for homosexuals? No problem. It's a free country. We'll get someone else." No longer. "Free" is defined as "What we want you to do" and "What we want you to do" is an almost purely emotional position taken without genuine reason or rationale. "Free is what we say it is" now prevails. And it does not apply to you.

"Fair's fair."

It seemed painfully obvious. "If it's good for me, it's good for you." So if I got to choose the restaurant last time, you ought to get to choose the restaurant this time. Fair's fair. The phrase is painfully obvious because "fair" seems patently obvious. No longer. It's fair if the gay baker doesn't have to violate his values and make a cake with a Leviticus reference on it, but it is not fair to defer making a cake for a gay wedding if it violates your religious values. Muslims must not be insulted or mocked; Christians should. Substitute what you will. The loudest public voices today have the right to harm those who do not wish to participate and that's fair. Those who do not want to participate must participate and failure to do so is not fair. Michelle Obama, during a commencement commencement address at Jackson State University in Mississippi, assured the grads that Mississippi was wrong in protecting people's free exercise of religion. "We’ve got to stand side by side," she said, "with all our neighbors –- straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender; Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu immigrant, Native American ..." unless, of course, our neighbors are Christians who don't wish to agree with us because fair's fair, right? Well, you would have thought.

How about you? Can you think of other things we don't say much anymore?

Friday, May 06, 2016

Backslidden Christians

The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, But a good man will be satisfied with his. (Prov 14:14)
I don't think the younger generation of Christians have likely heard the term, "backslidden Christian". And I don't think it's because the term "backsliding" has been replaced by a new term. No, I think it's because we've entered a new era of Christendom (my term for the broader world of "Christianity" which would include genuine as well as misguided or false believers), a "gentler and kinder" era where we don't point out that other people may be ... in the wrong.

The term is biblical, as the verse I reference uses it, but so is the concept. It is the idea behind the phrase from the hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, where he says, "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; Prone to leave the One I love." It's when prayer is no longer essential, when it is no longer a matter of joy to spend time with the Lord in His Word, when truth becomes personal rather than God's truth, when worship loses its delights, when fellowship with believers is no longer important, when other things like entertainment or money or power or pleasure take first place over a walk with the Savior, when we pardon our sin as a "boo boo" rather than an affront to the Master, when our lifestyle mimics the world's rather than the Lord's, when you feel your sin is small but your grace and mercy and godliness are great. Biblically, it is succumbing to the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12-13), a failure to hold to the faith and good conscience (1 Tim 1:18-19), when we become friends of the world (James 4:4) and we quench the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19), resist Him (Acts 7:51), and grieve Him (Eph 4:30).

Some "backsliders" are not "backslidden Christians", but rocky or thorny soil in whom the Word never took root (Matt 13:18-23). These are merely returning to their original, unsaved position. "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) Others are sliding Christians, prone to wander (as are we all). These need to be restored. Paul wrote, "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal 6:1-2)

But here's the problem. If we give in to the "kinder and gentler" version of Christendom in which we don't take note of backsliding Christians, how can we "bear one another's burdens"? If we aren't supposed to notice, but just "treat them with grace", how are we to "restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness"? You see, this "kinder and gentler" version is like the mother antelope that abandons her baby in flight from a predator and calls it "kinder and gentler". "I don't want to call that little thing weak." It is not "kinder and gentler" to abandon others to the "roaring lion" (1 Peter 5:8).

Yes, indeed, first and foremost each of us needs to "examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load." (Gal 6:4-5) Look first to your own condition. It was Jesus who said, "First take the log out of your own eye," but He gave a reason for that: "and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matt 7:5) Turning a blind eye to a backslidden Christian because "we don't want to be condemning" is condemning him or her to problems that we're supposed to be assisting rather than ignoring. We're told that "Tolerance is better." Sometimes. But the church at Thyatira (Rev 2:18-39) was tolerant. They tolerated false teaching that led to immorality and idolatry. And the results were ... unpleasant. Not all tolerance is good, especially in matters of the faith.

We do need to love one another. It starts with first examining ourselves to be sure we aren't a problem. It includes bearing one another's burdens, especially when that burden is ongoing sin. Failing to address false teaching and immorality has serious consequences for the one indulging in it as well as those who ignore it. Perhaps we need to put "backslidden" back into our vocabulary.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Why a Win for Trump is a Win for Us

So, the whole thing comes unraveled now. You naysayers who assured me that voting was a moral obligation and, by definition, that included voting for the "conservative candidate", you balked at the "lesser of two evils" concept, but tacitly agreed. The battle cry was "A vote for anyone else or no one else is a vote for Hillary!" I pointed out back here that I believed that "the lesser of two evils" was no longer clear; that I thought, in fact, that Trump was potentially the greater evil. "Not to worry," some assured me, "it won't come to that." Well, here we are with all candidates but one bailing out, and he's the "greater of two evils".

But, wait. Is it possible that this could be a good thing? I think it might.

1. Fire purifies.

Peter speaks of faith "more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire" (1 Peter 1:7). Fire, you see, purifies. Put things under the flames and the dross -- the impurities -- rise to the top. It is entirely possible that a Trump administration can serve as a purifying fire. Christians, lulled by this "Do the best we can with the least that we can get" kind of mentality, might get burned out. They could sink into the morass of "Nothing works so I'll just keep doing what I'm doing", or they might wake up and realize "This isn't working" and be ready to leave the "party" and move on. Trump as president just might make Christians realize that politics is not the answer.

2. Eventually the rot gets revealed.

For the longest time Republicans in general and conservatives in particular have been pointing "out there". "It's those darned liberals." "It's the Democrats." "Those people are the problem." With Donald Trump in the White House it just might happen that some of these Republicans and conservatives just might notice, "Oh, hang on a minute ... it looks like we're in trouble, too." Like the shadow that follows the dying man to the grave, conservatives have lagged liberals, but only slightly. They have never drawn the progressives back; they've simply ended up moving their way. At some point it's possible that we'll notice.

3. Destroy the party

As I warned in that other post, I see Donald Trump as a blow to Republicans and conservatives. Is it possible that, given the worse than useless choices we will be given this November, we might just realize that this system isn't working?

4. The Judgment of God

Trump followers won't agree, of course, but I think it is manifest that a Trump presidency would be the judgment of God on America. The truth is we've pushed this luxury liner so fast toward the reefs that we most likely can't avoid the collision with the rocks, but I don't see Trump as someone who will slow it down. And I'm confident that America has earned judgment from God. No, judgment is not pleasant, but it is good.

5. The clarification of a nation

With Trump in charge, voted into office by Americans, the world (and Americans) could finally see the meaning of the old phrase, "the ugly American". As our elected representatives represent us -- as a mirror to ourselves -- a Trump presidency would display how self-centered and selfish, proud and egotistical, narcissistic, hypocritical, and hypercritical Americans can really be. Maybe ... just maybe ... that good hard look in the face of ourselves might be a good jolt.

Of course, those are possible reasons why a win for Trump would be a win for us. Perhaps they're too optimistic. Fortunately I don't need to rely on my optimism. (Anyone who knows me would be giggling at the thought of putting "me" together with "optimism".) I rely on God who causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him. And since I don't trust the president to make our lives worth living and do trust God to do that, I guess a Trump win -- or a Hillary win -- will always "work together for good", at least on my behalf.