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Sunday, March 18, 2018

In Him we live and move and have our being

When Paul was in Athens, he came across the erudite, the learned folk, all discussing their wise stuff. He offered them some "strange things" (Acts 17:20), so he addressed the Areopagus, telling them about the "unknown god" they honored (Acts 17:23). In that discourse, Paul offers a phrase I'm sure you've heard.
"In Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)
Good stuff, really. You may not remember that earlier in that same discourse he said, "He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things." (Acts 17:25)

Now, let's just take those two, simple statements. "In Him we live and move and have our being" and "He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things." Think about that. Because I'm pretty sure you and I don't actually see God that way.

We're generally self-sufficient people. We feed ourselves, dress ourselves, get ourselves out of bed in the morning, that sort of thing. Most of us earn our own living, pay our own way. I mean, for the vast majority of us we get ourselves through everyday living. We're mostly doing okay. Sometimes we're not. In those times we go to God. "Please, dear God, get me through this." "Please, dear Lord, give me the strength today to do what's right in this situation." "Please, Father, give me peace in this situation." But the rest of the time we have it covered.

You see, though, that Paul disagrees. Paul said that God gives all (a superlative) people life, breath, and all (another superlative) things. You do not live because of your ability to do so. You do not breathe because of your own capacity to inhale and exhale. Everything you have was given to you by God. Get this. The only way you are even able to move is because of God. If He did not make it so, you and I would not exist. In Colossians we read, "In Him all things hold together." (Col 1:17) The very subatomic particles that make you and me consist in Him. If He didn't make it so, you and I would not be.

From the first day of Adam and Eve's sin it has been all about "me". "I will be like the Most High." We call it "sin", but it's really an entire worldview where we are the center. And it is a lie. We do not have the simple ability to take a breath if God did not enable it. When we ask Him to "get me through this", the reasonable question would be, "Who do you think got you through everything else?" When we pray for strength for this trial, the truthful response from God would be, "I gave you the strength to get out of bed this morning." Without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Perhaps you can begin to see why it is God's will that we should give thanks in everything (1 Thess 5:18).

Saturday, March 17, 2018

News Weakly - 3/17/2018

All About Freedom
Good news! Standford University has decided to allow college Republicans to have an American flag on their apparel. Because, as we all know, our modern leftward universities are all about freedom, right?

My kids are all grown up. Some of you have kids that are not. Do you think it's safe to send your kids to colleges these days when there is a swelling tide of anti-Christan, anti-freedom, anti-thinking forces at work there? Not that I have a dog in this race. Just wondering.

Cold-Hearted Compassion
Los Angeles prides itself on its compassion for the various groups that reside there, including a large homeless component. They have vowed to build thousands of units to house them ... and retain their ability to cut them off simply by withholding a letter of acknowledgment. It sounds like they care, but their actions say otherwise.

National Geographic used to be the "go to" magazine for the young man who wanted some "porn" but wasn't allowed to get it. You know, those titillating pictures of nearly naked African women and such. Well, that was then. Lots of more graphic, more soul-slaying stuff is available now. But National Geographic is repenting. They have admitted that they've been racists for a long time. "The coverage wasn't right before because it was told from an elite, white American point of view," editor in chief Susan Goldberg said. Apparently it comes from too many white guys taking pictures. Who knew? Guess they're woke now.

Riding the Bus
They're jumping on board, but who's driving? Filmakers are jumping on the bandwagon to include inclusion riders. The aim -- the sole purpose -- is to include females, individuals from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities. If your movie doesn't include them, you're not a good artist. If you're making a movie like Dunkirk, you'll have to modify history to include some transgenders and females and disabled people or something to tell the story because, after all, diversity by definition makes entertainment better.

Mind you, I'm not opposed to hiring all sorts of people. I just think making it a standard rule makes no sense. And, tell me, if a woman makes an all-girl film with lots of underrepresented and LGBTQ and disabled people but not one single male, do you suppose anyone will say, "Hey! What about inclusion?!" No, I'm pretty sure the prevailing winds don't blow that way. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?)

Saying "No" to Love
Our repressive society just won't stop saying "No" to love. Poor Oklahoma woman, Patricia Ann Spann, pleaded guilty to felony incest. What was her crime? She loved her children too much. In 2008 she married one of her two sons. In 2016 she married her biological daughter. Both marriages were annulled. She figured it wasn't illegal because her name wasn't on their birth certificates.

I don't understand. How can our society today, given its standard of "consent" and "I should be allowed to marry whom I love" say no to this poor woman just because of some archaic notion of "incest"? (Hint: They can't. Their rules are arbitrary.) Oh, the travesty of it all! (Do I have to explain that I'm speaking sarcastically here?)

The Ultimate Reality Bend
We've complained that the courts are modifying reality. We know, for instance, that an unborn child is a human being, but the courts have declared them "non-person humans" and you can kill them. We know that marriage is between a man and a woman, but the courts redefined it and two people of the same gender can "marry". We know that science tells us there is male and female, but the courts have agreed that there is also "other" (without any real definition or even verification), so we have to let guys into girls' bathrooms if he identifies as a woman. Well, the Romanian courts have topped it all. A 63-year-old man came back from an extended trip to Turkey to discover that his wife had obtained a death certificate for him. Despite the fact that he was standing in front of the judge asking to have him declared alive again, the judge told him he was too late and would have to remain deceased.

Stands to reason.

Almost Not News
California appointed Lizbeth Mateo to a statewide committee and they're proud of it. "The state Senate made history Wednesday by selecting the first undocumented resident for a statewide appointment," state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said. Let's see if we can make that more clear. They made history by selecting a documented criminal for a statewide appointment. I guess it's what California is leading us to expect.

But, look, here's what I'm really wondering. The story says she "was born in Mexico and came to the US at age 14 with her parents." It says, "She was the first person in her family to go to college. She has a law degree, and her own firm in metro Los Angeles." Okay, good for her. All fine and dandy. But what I want to know is why hasn't she applied for legal immigration status? I'm not anti-immigrant. I'm not anti-opportunity. I'm not complaining that she has done well. But why can't she simply comply with immigration law and be a legal resident instead of an illegal one? Because to me I would not want a documented criminal who refuses to comply with the law serving in my government. But, then, I don't live in California.

Was That Supposed to be Funny?
The Babylon Bee is supposed to be a Christian satire news site. So they ran this one about Jimmy Kimmel telling the nation about sexual impropriety and respecting women. This is the same Jimmy Kimmel who got famous doing "The Man Show" which included a feature on guys coming to watch scantily-clad women jumping on trampolines. This is what happens when satire writes itself from fact.

I would give the standard "I saw it on the Internet" line, but the "Let's emphasize women as sexual objects" crowd lecturing us about not seeing women as sexual objects just isn't making sense in my head.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Why Not to Believe

Steve Taylor sang a song back in 1990 titled Harder to Believe Than Not To. It came from a line from a letter from Flannery O'Connor, an American writer from Georgia, who was responding to friends who were shocked that she would believe something so unfashionable as Christianity. She responded that there is a high cost to following Jesus and, as such, "It's much harder to believe than not to believe." The truth is, the world has several reasons not to believe.

Someone said that the most controversial verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning, God ..." It is the driving conflict between humans and God. "Is it about Him, or is it about Me?" As we all know, it's about Me. Except God disagrees. But "all about Me" underscores our everyday existence, our entire worldview. So the question becomes, "Who are you going to believe?" The result is an inherent conflict ... with God (Rom 8:7).

The first message of the Gospel is the bad news -- we are sinners (Rom 1:16-18). We are all sinners (Rom 3:23). In fact, there is none good; not one (Rom 3:12). Now, of course, none of us believe this. We're all pretty good. Well, not completely good, of course. I mean, we all agree that to err is human, that "nobody's perfect." But sinners? Worse, there is a penalty involved -- eternal damnation. Torment for the rest of eternity. Hell. "Okay, now hang on! Just because we've may have committed some ... mistakes here, why does that call for such a drastic result?" Well, since it's all about Him and He is infinite, the crimes we have committed against Him are infinite and the payment is, too. Having stood carefully on "It's about Me", this is another reason not to believe.

"But, look, we can be reasonable. Let's just say You're right. Let's say it's all about You and not us and that we are actually sinners. Maybe we even risk Hell. Do You have a solution?" This shouldn't be too bad, we figure. I mean, everyone knows that there is a "good enough". If we can be good or, at least, "better than you", we should be okay. Right? The solution God offers isn't helpful. No, there is no "good enough". No, there's nothing we can do to mitigate our debt. No effort, no work, no penance. If there is a solution, we don't play a part in it. Another reason not to believe. (Because, remember, the original problem is "It's not about Me" and we don't find that acceptable.)

So, none of my works, none of my effort, none of my penance will do. So, what? Are we without hope? (Puny religion.) No, of course not. There is a remedy. God sent His Son to die on our behalf. Death is required; He took that death. He lived a perfect life and paid the price. In this, God is both just and justifier (Rom 3:26). He doesn't surrender His justice but also maintains grace and mercy. This is God's remedy, but even the Bible recognizes that this answer won't fly. "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). "Sounds too barbaric," we say today. "God is too bloodthirsty," we taunt. Because, after all, it is all about Me, not God, and this just won't do.

"But let's just say that you have something there, okay? Let's just let your whole premise thus far stand. Why be a Christian? I mean, the debt is paid, right? No need to do anything else. End of story." Again, that idea is predicated on "It's all about Me" and falls short. "There is no other name given under heaven among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Jesus stated unequivocally, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) This isn't a catch-all, universal fix. It requires faith, agreement, submission. Another reason not to believe.

"Look," we finally say, "you're really pushing it. Now you're saying we need 'faith'. You're not even going to offer proof?" Well, proof is a problem. Proof is defined as the argument or evidence that establishes the fact of a statement, but that kind of proof doesn't exist. Biblical faith takes evidence and reason and goes to the next step. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11:1) "Yes, that's what we're saying. You're arguing that we have to trust in something we don't see?" Yes. And that requires an act of God (e.g., John 6:63-65). So we're back down to "It's all about God."

We believers are convinced that we have something here. It flies in the face of the underlying premise of Natural Man. It carries bad news -- really bad news. It eliminates the abilities of humans to solve the problem and lays it on the back of a single gift of God, His Son, who died on our behalf and paid our price. It refuses to allow alternatives or other routes. It stands on faith in things not seen, a faith that is given by God. In the end, it starts and ends with God. In the end it is all about Him. Perhaps you can see why it might be harder to believe than not to. It's just that ... well ... that doesn't mean it's not right to believe.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Church Doesn't Save

We know better. We truly do. We know Jesus is the only way to be saved (John 14:6). We know "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) We know we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9) and that any other gospel is a false one (Gal 1:6-9). We know all this. And still ... we walk into walls all the time.

We think that good works will save. Oh, most of us don't run afoul of that too often. Still, we tend to think that if we're good we ought to get rewarded for it and if we're bad ... funny thing ... we shouldn't see any negative outcome because, hey, we're one of the King's kids, right? But we know it doesn't work that way (Heb 12:5-11). Some think that homeschooling will do it. Keep our kids out of the bad influences of the world and, bingo! They'll be saved. As if that's a new gospel. As if that's a magic pill. But it isn't.

When we stray from "Christ alone", we generally stray to a cocktail, a mixture of means to the end. If we can give our kids the gospel when they're young and we can raise them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4), if we can train them up in the way they should go (Prov 22:6), if we can take them to church ... every Sunday and to youth groups and to camps, then we can insure they will be saved, right? Right?

You know it doesn't work that way. You know that. You know that humans are, by nature, hostile to God (Rom 8:7). You know that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9). You know that "the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21) Didn't Jesus tell us, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matt 7:13-14)? Hear that? The gate we want is narrow and small and few find it. We know this.

So, we do what we can. We obey where we can. And we fail. For a variety of reasons we cannot guarantee the eternal condition of our progeny, our loved ones, our friends and family. So placing our faith in works or homeschooling or proper upbringing or church is a false gospel. So what are we left with? We have to trust Jesus to save us and we have to trust the Father to do what's best for those about whom we care the most. Frankly, that can seem a bit ... shaky. We can do our best and still not have the outcome we hope for? Yes, indeed. So you have to ask yourself: Is that okay with you? Is whatever God does okay with you? Or do you have a better idea? It's something you'll have to answer for yourself. We do our best, we obey as far as we can, we do all we know to do. Is God's outcome okay with you? Is He good enough? That's the real question.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Suffer the Little Children

English is tough, but throw in Old English and it gets tougher. "Suffer the little children" (Matt 19:14 KJV) has been thought by some to refer to making children suffer. Not the point. In a similar way, I think we're confused about suffering.

In church on Sunday the sermon was on finishing the race. Fine and dandy. Someone (not the pastor) mentioned that the day was coming when we'd be in the presence of our Savior and all our sufferings would be at an end. True enough. I caught, however, a sense that what we would experience was simply pain relief, so to speak. As if Heaven would be the best aspirin you've ever had. I think, also, that this is common. The Bible promises there will be no more tears (Rev 21:4). The notion we appear to come away with is that all the tears and mourning and crying and pain in this life were all a bad thing and when we get to Heaven all this bad stuff will be over. I don't think that's the point.

Scripture is abundantly clear that God intends difficulties (e.g., Gen 50:20) for a good purpose. Malachi talks of one coming from God. "Who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness." (Mal 3:2-3) He is "refiner's fire" and purifies with fire. Similarly, Peter urges his readers to rejoice in distress "so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:7) The author of Hebrews assures us that God "disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." (Heb 12:6) Imagine that! Chastised (literally "flogged") for love!

It is true that our suffering in this life will end some day. It is true that He will dry our tears. It is true that our pain will end. I do not believe, however, that it means that suffering was bad and God will finally end that bad thing. I believe He will not merely end the pain. We will see the point and the value. We won't think it was too much; we will find that it was perfect, just the right thing to shape us and mold us and mold us into the image of His Son. We will rejoice that the pain is ended, sure, but we will also be grateful it was there, doing the work God wanted done to refine, purify, and shape us into just what He wanted us to be. Suffering won't be merely terminated; it will be appreciated.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Just a few thoughts for our times

Transgender Dichotomy

The idea of transgender is that a person born in the body of one particular gender believes him or herself to actually be the other gender. (Mind you, that's simplified. They go all sorts of places with that, a spectrum of possibilities. That's just the easy version.) The suggestion (nay, the outright statement) is that gender is a social construct, not a biological reality. Now, the fact is that no male body has a uterus and no female body produces sperm (just to name a couple of obvious biological differences), but this biological reality does not intrude in the transgender notion. Ultimate Reality resides in the mind of the beholder, and no amount of science is going to change that.

Why is it, given their dismissal of the notion that physical reality should define internal reality, that the aim of the sufferers of gender dysphoria is to transform themselves physically into their internal reality? If they've already indicated that physical doesn't matter, why does it matter? If all genders are equal and there is no significant difference between male and female, why do guys who believe themselves to be gals work so hard to conform to the image of female (and vice versa for girls who believe themselves to be guys)? Why are they discarding the physical and societal notions of gender and then working really hard to take up the physical and societal notions of gender? And force others to play along?

The Age of Consent

When did "consent" become the gatekeeper for all things moral? The other day I was talking to someone about the article I read in which a porn website pulled ads from a congressional candidate because he was accused of sexual abuse. Now, this website would have videos of sexual abuse (real or acted out), so why were they complaining about a candidate who acted out what they had on their site? Were they just mad because they didn't get the video? Well, someone told me, "It's not abuse if it's consensual." When did that happen? When did we enter the Age of Consent?

It's not true, you know. I mean, we say it is, but we don't believe that. We didn't really care if women and girls do not give consent to a guy who identifies as a girl being in their bathrooms and locker rooms. In their case, consent doesn't matter. A 40-year-old man who has consensual sex ("Consensual": involving or carried out by mutual consent) with a 12-year-old (male or female) will be accused of statutory rape. A woman who has sex with her dog even though she didn't coerce it is guilty of bestiality. No amount of consent will allow a man to marry three women (polygamy) or two men and two women to marry each other as a group (polyamory). "Consent" is not the end-all for morality. It's only the license we confer when we want to allow previously immoral acts and withhold when we don't. Thus, beating a woman is a crime against which women march ... unless she is a masochist who consents to it; then it's a bestseller and a hit movie.

We live in an age when "consent" defines "moral," but we don't really, and we don't really know why. The question is not "Do I approve?", but "Is it right?" Lacking any basis for an answer, we're left with random methods of determining morality. Expect random results.

The Intolerance of the Tolerant

Why is it that the loudest, most intolerant people are the ones crying for tolerance? They shout down the voices of those with whom they disagree. They create labels like "bigot" or "hater" or "homophobe" or whatever will turn your anger against those with whom they disagree. The guy who says, "The Bible holds that homosexual behavior is a sin" is saddled with an "anti-gay intolerance" label.

If you're white, your racist. If you're male, you're sexist. If you don't know it, you're "not woke." If you're Trump (whether the actual guy or anyone remotely connected to him), you're evil and deserve to be hated! If you ask, "Does science really demonstrate that climate change is the direct result of human activity?", you are immediately castigated as a "climate denier" and dismissed as an idiot.

"No, don't kill lions; yes, keep killing babies legal." "No, don't take away my rights to free speech; yes, take away their rights to the same." "We will fight for the rights of LGBT but dismiss the 1st Amendment rights of Christians." Jon Favreau, director of Ironman (1 and 2), Chef, and The Jungle Book, is slated to create a live Star Wars series. It is evil and wrong because ... he's male and white. Or take the example of Mike Pence tweeting about honoring and empowering women to be castigated by women. "Every woman hates you." Nice tolerance. Lots of examples of the intolerance of the tolerant.

Often the Bible proves itself to be true. We suffer from deceived hearts (Jer 17:9), made insane by sin (Rom 1:28ff), in need of Christ who gives a new heart (Ezek 36:26), and a renewed mind (Rom 12:2).

Monday, March 12, 2018


Jim Elliff wrote a piece asking, "Why do Some Pastors Deliberately Avoid Teaching Doctrine?" He suggested that "many pastors" have bgun to intentionally avoid teaching doctrine. Why? The aim is to encircle more people for our churches by minimizing that which limits us. "The problem is," he says, "it works." Why? "Doctrine does narrow things." And, frankly, there are fewer attracted to sound doctrine than to "tolerable beliefs".

The Bible favors doctrine. Paul told the young pastor, Timothy,
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Tim 1:8-11)
And his depiction of those who teach a different doctrine is not "user friendly" (1 Tim 6:3-5). Instructing Titus in the selection of elders, Paul told him, "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it." (Titus 1:9) He warned Titus of those who profess to know God but deny Him by their works (Titus 1:16) and countered, "But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1) The author of Hebrews complained about his readers being "unskilled in the word of righteousness" (Heb 5:13) rather than having their "powers of discernment trained by constant practice" (Heb 5:14). Doctrine, biblically, is good. Unfortunately, it appears that many preachers these days disagree.

I was in a church in 2001 where the pastor was preaching through Ephesians. On the Sunday following September 11th, I wasn't exactly excited to go to church. I figured the events of 9/11 would be the topic and, frankly, I was tired of the topic. I wanted a break. But then I realized that the passage of the day would include Eph 1:11, including the claim that God "works all things after the counsel of His will." Now that would be a message I'd like to hear from the pulpit on this particular Sunday. He didn't do it. He skipped the concept. When we got, a few weeks later, to chapter 2, he turned "You were dead in your trespasses and sins ..." (Eph 2:1-10) into a sermon on marriage. That is avoiding doctrine.

The early church "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship ... day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes ..." (Acts 2:42-47) We've diminished that whole "day by day" thing greatly, and now we've largely dropped the "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching." We barely even believe in "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), let alone contending for it. When a man named Simon offered the Apostles money, Peter didn't take it with thanks. He berated him for His false beliefs (Acts 8:18-23). Today we gladly limit our preaching and doctrine in favor of some extra cash (beginning with "501c3"). Brethren, we do not well.

Elders are required to "give instruction in sound doctrine" and "rebuke those who contradict it." (Titus 1:9) In some congregations, the elders are the pastors. In others, they're the ruling body. In either case, if either the pastors or the elders are not teaching sound doctrine, is it because they don't have it or is it because they're refusing? If so, are they qualified to be in that position? If elders are the ruling body and not teaching sound doctrine, is it because pastors have failed to teach them? Do we even know what "sound doctrine" is anymore?

Paul warned Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine, "but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Tim 4:3-4) I would argue that the time has arrived. The remedy, according to Paul, is "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching." (2 Tim 4:2) The alternative is a group of people misguided and misled, without genuine truth. Look around and see what you find.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

I'd Rather Have Jesus

We want a lot of things in life. We want health and happiness, comfort and satisfaction, wealth and fame and power. We want a long life. (I mean, who wants to die, really?). We want people to like us, a job that fulfills us (even if that's no job at all), a "significant other" (or others) who pleases us. We want freedom and peace, love and joy, stability and passion, self-confidence and safety. Oh, and control ... we really want control.

Unfortunately for us, many of these things are elusive and, ironically, out of our control. We don't determine most of this stuff. They come and they go, sometimes with our help and sometimes all on their own. They are evasive and transitory. And, yet, we are upset when we don't get what we want and, strangely enough, rarely grateful when we do.

As for me, I'm hoping for something different. Let me explain. I am "hoping" in the sense that I don't always at all times in all senses have this hope down. I'm hoping, then, to want this in a more consistent and sure fashion. It's not that I'm hoping to get something different, because this "something different" is not in question. It's a sure thing. And, of course, I've already told you what it is. I'd rather have Jesus.

Jeremy Camp sang, "Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus. You can have all this world; Just give me Jesus." Rhea Miller wrote and George Beverly Shea put to music "I'd Rather Have Jesus."
I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I'd rather be His than have riches untold;
I'd rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.

Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin's dread sway;
I'd rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I'd rather have Jesus than men's applause;
I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I'd rather be true to His holy name.
That other stuff is cool, I suppose, and if getting more of Jesus gives me some of that, it would be nice, I imagine. But, seriously, the longer I live, the less those things matter to me in comparison to Him. And the really excellent thing is that "more of Jesus" is a certainty and my ultimate outcome will be an eternity in His presence.

We used to sing a little ditty in our high school youth group. (Don't know who wrote it.) "I want more of Jesus; more and more and more. I want more of Jesus than I ever had before. I want more of His great love, rich and full and free. I want more of Jesus so I'll give Him more of me." That's it! That's what I want. "You can have all this world; just give me Jesus."

Saturday, March 10, 2018

News Weakly - 3/10/2018

Diversity by Force
I don't follow the Oscars, but the news item says Best Actress winner Frances McDormand called for an inclusion rider in the future. The best guess about what that would mean is the stipulation that future movies "could require the cast be 50 percent female, 40 percent underrepresented ethnic groups, 20 percent people with disabilities, and 5 percent L.G.B.T. people." Now, if you're doing the math, it looks like we're at 115% and would necessarily exclude men, but, of course, that would be faulty math. I mean, it is entirely possible for one or two men to be in the "underrepresented", "people with disabilities", or "LGBT" groups, so there. The idea is that no longer can studios consider things like market forces, what the crowd wants, superstar status, artistic preferences, and such. Now it is purely demographics. Start there and work your way out. The implied claim is that diversity (even if forced) makes things better. Good for you if you think that works. (I'm concerned that we, as a society, have already determined that "think" is not really an important part of our vocabulary anymore.)

Assigning Blame
One might think that the one to blame for the Florida school shooting was ... you know ... the shooter. That would be a mistake. Apparently the real culprit is the authorities. One (of, I'm sure, quite a few more) of the survivors will be suing the Broward County Public Schools, the principal, and the school resource officer. According to his attorney, "The failure of Broward County Public Schools, and of the principal and school resource officer to adequately protect students, and in particular our client, from life-threatening harm were unreasonable, callous and negligent."

I suppose if we can't ban guns, we can hold people with money responsible, right? (Hey, I wonder if the shooter can sue, too. You know, "Their failure to prevent me from shooting those people was unreasonable, callous and negligent." Surely he could throw in the president, the NRA, and the police, too.)

This is What Happens
For decades we've been presented with stories, images, movies, and shows about how the really bright, intelligent, and even wise people are the youth. Adults could learn a lot from them. No, the adults have nothing much to offer to them; kids are the gurus, the rabbis, the seers of the age. It has gone on so long that of course we'd get to the point that 21 children would be suing the Trump administration for "its dangerous fossil fuel policies." The article says that "the young plaintiffs assert that the government's actions to promote fossil fuel emissions violate the basic constitutional rights of future generations."

What do they want? Besides punishing those who disagree with them (which would be anyone who even questions their position), what else do they have in mind? What are they doing in their own lives to affect the problem? (Because from what I can see the loudest voices protesting the problem are doing so from SUVs and private airplanes.) Are they aware that the same science that tells them there is climate change tells them that it is unstoppable? Are they aware of the fact that if it is true that climate change is caused by humans (and that's still a question), they still can't make everyone submit (like China, India, every other sovereign nation)? Do they understand that the only means of affecting the so-called human-caused climate change problem is a demolition of the old order? Are they willing to give up things (like cars, technology, comfort, cheap power, etc.) for what they see as a massive problem? It would appear that they are not aware that the administration is not "promoting fossil fuel emissions", but in today's world where the wise ones are children and truth is suffering a greater decline than the environment is, the truth in this case shouldn't be an issue, I suppose.

International Women's Day
On International Women's Day Myanmar State Counsellor Suu Kyi was quoted as saying, "A country's human rights values will be enhanced when women are granted their rights." This is the same person who had her Holocaust Museum award rescinded because she and her league for democracy "have refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, fed hate attacks on the Rohingya and denied reporters access to areas where alleged abuses have taken place." I wonder if Jane Toppan would have made a popular "women's rights" speaker?

Filed Under "You Can't Make This Stuff Up"
The headline is truly a stunner: "Pornhub pulls Benjamin Thomas Wolf's marijuana ad over abuse claims." That is wrong in so many ways without including the story itself. 1) A congressional candidate is accused of sexual abuse. 2) A congressional candidate is advertising on a porn site. 3) Pornhub is a porn website on which you can find all manner of "sexual abuse" videos, but they're pulling this guy's ad because of alleged abuse. 4) The candidate is running on a "legalize marijuana" platform. I suppose you might guess that the details of the story won't make it any better.

I recently wrote about smartphones and some of the effects they are having on our lives. One was the tendency to read less. You know ... "TL;DR" -- "too long; didn't read." Well, good news! They've come out with the TL;DR Bible that will reduce God's Word into bite-sized snippets that are easier to bother reading instead of that whole big thing. You're welcome.

I know it's true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, March 09, 2018


A commenter recently suggested that the idea of purgatory exists among "most Christians" and is supported in Scripture. The suggestion was that to disbelieve in purgatory was to "align yourself against the biblical grain". Now, of course, I wasn't trained in Roman Catholicism; all my training has been in non-Catholic theology. I've only had a smattering of Catholic teaching to examine. So I thought I'd look into purgatory for myself and anyone else who might not have much Catholic teaching under their belts.

First, I need to note a distinction. There is "Roman Catholic", often abbreviated to just "Catholic", which is distinct from "catholic" with a lowercase "c". The uppercase versions refer to a specific group. The lowercase version refers to "catholic," an adjective meaning "including a wide variety of things; universal." Thus, while I don't believe in the Catholic church, I do believe in the catholic Church -- the Church that Christ has made that encompasses all Christians. Just in case you weren't aware of the distinction.

Moving on, what about purgatory? The term is from Latin, purgatorium. I'm sure if you think about it you can easily catch the intent. It is a place to get purged. The doctrine is found in a reference in 2 Maccabees 12 regarding praying for the dead. Now, most Protestants (non-Catholics) would say, "2 Maccabbees? That's not in my Bible." Yes, that's right. It is found in the Apocrypha which Roman Catholics believe to be Scripture but not Protestants (or Jesus). So there's the first rub. The Catholic church regards "Sacred Tradition" to be of equal (greater?) authority to Scripture and hold that Sacred Tradition (some writings from Origen, Ambrose of Milan, Pope Gregory the Great, etc.) established the doctrine of purgatory as well. Purgatory, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is the final purification for "All who die in God's grace and friendship." (Does that strike anyone else as odd?) The catechism lists two Bible references as proof of a fire (1 Cor 3:15; 1 Peter 1:7). It is linked to the Catholic practice of praying for the dead and is also linked to the Catholic practice of giving alms, buying indulgences, and performing acts of penance on behalf of the dead. The idea, then, is that no one (or at least almost no one) gets out of this life "clean" and everyone needs some measure of purification -- "purging" -- which is accomplished through painful but temporary fire. Thus, by prayer and paying off some of their debt, you can speed up this process for dead loved ones. The concept is predicated on three states of being. Non-Catholic Christians see two -- unsaved or saved, in sin or not, guilty or forgiven. Catholic doctrine holds out for a third state -- sort of saved, still tainted by some sin, mostly forgiven. It goes along with their "mortal sins" versus "venial sins", where mortal sins incur eternal punishment and venial sins just temporal punishment. The former is in direct opposition to God and the latter is simply moral disorder.

According to the commenter, "most Christians" believe in purgatory. Let's see if that's true. First, there is a necessary assumption. When John the Baptist said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) he was wrong. He only partly takes sin away. When Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30), He was wrong. More was required. When John wrote, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," (1 John 1:9) he was wrong. "All unrighteousness" is an overreach. When Paul wrote, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God," (Eph 2:8) he was wrong. You will be contributing to your salvation. The requirement for purgatory to be true would be that Christ's death on our behalf was incomplete, that sin was not fully paid for, that, in fact, we pay for our own sin. Peter said that Christ suffered once for sins (1 Peter 3:18), but the doctrine of purgatory says that there is more required. So, what's my point? If purgatory is true -- we need to be further purged after death -- then Scripture in general and Jesus in particular are all wrong. The Gospel is not one of grace and mercy and salvation is earned (with great effort). In other words, the very fundamentals of the Christian Gospel are false. Therefore, the doctrine of purgatory falls under the heading of "another gospel" which Paul declared "anathema" -- accursed (Gal 1:6-10). In other words, if you are placing your faith in purgatory to get you to heaven, it disqualifies you from being a Christian.

I should be clear here. I am not saying that it is impossible to be in a Roman Catholic church and be saved. I am not suggesting that there are no Roman Catholic Christians. What I am saying is that Roman Catholic doctrine, where it deviates (sometimes knowingly) from Scripture, will not produce biblical Christians. The truth is that most Roman Catholics don't follow Roman Catholic doctrine. As such, it is possible, even reasonable, that there would be genuine believers in the Roman Catholic church. In other words, I believe there are catholic Christians in a variety of places, including the Catholic church. But if purgatory is your plan to get to heaven, I'd suggest you think again. Think about the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice (Col 2:13-14; Heb 9:26) and the righteousness of Christ applied to us (2 Cor 5:21). Further, if you have the capacity to pay for your own sin, it's just not that bad, is it? Jesus did it because we lack the capacity. Purgatory, then, diminishes Christ and the Scriptures, and that's not a good thing from a genuinely Christian perspective.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

I Believe

Everyone has beliefs. There are scientific beliefs, societal beliefs, political beliefs, religious beliefs, even personal beliefs. Someone once quipped, "I have beliefs. Like, right now ... I believe I'll have another beer." The fact that everyone has beliefs is unavoidable and even necessary. The real question is whether or not those beliefs are true, valid, right. Because I'm quite certain that every one of us holds dearly to some beliefs that are just plain wrong.

The question, then, is the origin of the belief. Where does it come from and is it true? If the belief comes from truth, then it is true. (See? They don't all me "Captain Obvious" for nothing.) (For the record, no one calls me "Captain Obvious.") So we need to determine the source of our beliefs so we can determine if we're believing truth or a lie. For me, the best source available for truth is Scripture. It comes from God (2 Tim 3:16-17) who cannot lie (Num 23:19; Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18). It comes from the Omniscient God (Psa 147:4-5; Psa 139:1-4, 16; Matt 10:30; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 John 3:20). So I am convinced that the best source for beliefs is God and His Word. As a consequence, here are some of the things I believe ... that might not be patently obvious.

I believe that it God has limitations. There are things God cannot do. I already said He is unable to lie (Num 23:19; Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18). There is more. He cannot fail (Jer 32:17). He cannot break a promise (Psa 89:34; Heb 6:18). He cannot die or cease to be (the definition of "eternal") (Deut 33:27; Psa 90:2; Isa 90:6; Isa 40:28; Rom 16:26; 1 Tim 6:16; Heb 9:14) He cannot get tired (Isa 40:28). One thing God never runs out of is love (Psa 103:19). I believe, then, in the Triune God of the Bible. As such, the Creator of all (Gen 1:1; John 1:3) affects every aspect of life, both for believers and unbelievers.

I believe that we all sin (Rom 3:23), even after we're forgiven (1 John 1:9), and that to deny that makes God a liar (1 John 1:8, 10). I believe the default condition of humans is that of sinner (Gen 8:21; Psa 51:5; Psa 58:3; 1 Kings 8:46; Rom 3:10-12). In this condition ("dead in sin" - Eph 2:1-3), I believe that humans are naturally deceived (Jer 17:9), incapable (that is the right word) of understanding the things of God (1 Cor 2:14), and by nature hostile to God (Rom 8:7). He can't enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5); he cannot even see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). As such, Natural Man justly deserves eternal punishment (Matt 25:41, 46; Mark 9:42-48; John 3:18; Rev 20:10) and is desperately in need of a Savior. (That is, I believe that God is rightly wrathful against sin and those who commit it (Rom 1:18; John 3:36; Rom 9:22).) The spiritual condition of Man affects every aspect of life, both for believers and unbelievers.

I believe that Jesus saves. ("Oh, now that one is patently obvious, Stan.") I believe He alone saves, which would also mean that He saved in both the Old and New Testaments (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). I believe His death on the cross was payment made in our place (Isa 53:4-6; Rom 5:8-10; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2) sufficient to cover all sin (Rom 3:24-25; Rom 5:9; 1 Tim 2:5-6; 1 John 1:7; Heb 10:10) and applies to all who believe (John 3:16). In His effectual sacrifice God is both Just and justifier (Rom 3:26).

I believe that good works on the part of believers is an effect rather than a cause, a result rather than an effort (Eph 2:10), produced with our cooperation with God's work within us (Phil 2:12-13). As such, our good works are certain (Those born of God cannot make a continual practice of sin - 1 John 3:9.) and glorify God (Matt 5:16) (rather than ourselves).

That's a sampling, a few examples. My aim is to conform my beliefs to God's Word. Where I deviate from His Word, I aim to correct them. Where I agree with His Word, I must stand. I understand that this is a radical approach for many and will certainly produce unexpected beliefs in some cases (because if there is a God who is not Man and we are sinners, He will certainly be "other" in some cases and we will be wrong - Rom 12:2). Understand, then, that I believe the Bible. If what I believe is clearly there and you disagree with me, you're disagreeing, I suppose, with either my premise ("The Bible is God's Word and, as such, to be believed and followed.") or with God's Word. I thought it might be helpful to clear up the question, "Where does Stan come up with these things?"

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

People of the Book

The phrase is actually an Islamic phrase. It refers to Jews and Christians (and a group of people known as Sabians). "The Book" in view, then, would be the Bible. For Jews, it would refer to our Old Testament and for Christians it would be the whole Book. Christians embraced the term in later days declaring, "Yes, indeed, we are people of the Book."

Of course, modern Christians are often in disagreement on this point. Modern Christians (self-professed) might consider themselves "religious, but without all that Bible nonsense." They would think it's a good book and all that, but let's not get carried away. I can write about "Christians" and "biblical Christians" and no one really questions the distinction because there are self-professed Christians who are "people of the Book" and self-professed Christians who are not. Settled in the early days of Christendom, one of the hottest (in terms of emotion as well as popularity) contentions these days is the reliability of the Christian Bible.

It's not just Christians who have this disagreement. Modern Jews are largely not "people of the Book." Indeed, many modern Jews are Jewish in heritage only. Their Bible disagrees with them as it does with modern Christians who are not biblical Christians.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isa 40:8)
The disagreement among self-professing Christians centers around just a couple of issues, I think. The first it common to most -- Jew and Christian. "I'm the decider of what is true and right." Like a kid who tells an adult, "You're not the boss of me!", we aren't really happy about some book written thousands of years ago telling us what is and is not true, what is and is not right. It's common to hear complaints like, "What did they know about modern issues like gender or loving relationships between two people of the same sex?" It carries over to other issues, too, of course, but you understand. Life was different then. Why would we expect the Bible to have any reasonable or useful input now? The second very common problem is that of translation and interpretation. On one hand this is a valid concern. We have certainly seen (continue to see) our share of bad translations and even interpretations. (The New World Translation springs to mind for bad translation and anything interpreted à la Joel Olsteen is a suspect interpretation -- two quick examples.)

I think everything else breaks down under those two complaints. "The Bible was written by men and shouldn't be the final word on all things Christian." That's still under the first category. "The Bible isn't a book of rules." Still that first category. "There are so many differences of interpretation for so many things in the Bible that we can't know for sure." Second category. You get the idea.

I also think that the complaints break down into one position: God is not reliable. You can see this under both categories. For the first category, He is not reliable to tell us what to do in His own Word, and in the second He is not reliable to keep His own Word through the ages. He is not reliable enough to insure that His own people know what His Word says. He is not Omniscient because He didn't plan for the future. He wasn't able to produce a comprehensive, authoritative, reliable manual for "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3) The flip side of that same coin is to lay it at our feet. We can't be trusted to properly interpret His Word. We can't really know what He intended. We are not reliable enough to say with certainty what was meant. Same thing, different approach.

It's all nonsense, you see. The distinction between "Christian" and "biblical Christian" looks a lot like "not Christian" and "Christian" when considered through the lens of "Is God reliable?" The non-biblical Christian would have to argue, "No, He's not ... but I'm a believer." Not a reasonable position. The best "anti-biblical Christian" arguments end up with only a couple of possibilities. Either God is not God -- not correct or good or right or reliable -- or the Holy Spirit has failed to accomplish what Jesus said He would (John 14:26). It's fairly simple. The Christian who confirms that the Bible is not reliable, inerrant, authoritative -- God's Word -- denies at the core the character and capability of God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. If Christians are not actually people of the Book, they are not likely Christians1.
1 Just for clarity, I say "not likely" because in today's essentially anti-biblical world with anti-biblical voices in the church, it is entirely possible that a genuine Christian could be confused and deceived. That's the kind of person I'm hoping will read this and see a different path, that God is reliable, making His word trustworthy and authoritative.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The End of the World As We Know It

You've heard it already, I'm sure. It's the end of the world. Of course, what is the end of the world varies. Maybe it's Obama or maybe it's Trump. Maybe it's gays or maybe it's Christians. Maybe it's Islam or maybe Bible believers. Currently it's guns ... or the lack thereof, depending on your perspective. Or maybe it's not "the world"; maybe it's "our way of life" or some such. I've had discussions with Christians regarding their consternation that the Church may be coming to an end in the current societal environment. Same thing -- the end of the world as we know it.

This is where I find great comfort in a world of turmoil. And it isn't found by eliminating the turmoil. Did you know that? Genuine peace does not require placid circumstances. Genuine peace, in the words of Scripture, passes understanding (Phil 4:6-7). So in this topsy-turvy world, where is this peace? The simple answer is in Christ, for "as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes." (1 Cor 1:20)

We have the certainty that while others intend evil, God intends good (Gen 50:20), the promise that God works all things -- ALL THINGS -- together for good (Rom 8:28). We can say with Job, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10) We know that trials produce patience and patience produces perfection (James 1:2-4). We can be sure that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11), that He does all that He pleases (Psa 115:3; Psa 135:6; Ecc 8:3). We know that, since "God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31)

Some take this kind of thinking as either proof or refutation of the concept. "If this is true, then there's nothing to do but sit back and do nothing; God will work it all out." If they like that idea; it's proof. If they think that's wrong, it's refutation. But both miss the point. The certainty of God's promises around His care for His own glory and His own people in the midst of hard times is not permission to be lax; it's license to be bold. It's not a means to do nothing; it's the empowerment to do much. The people of God can stand on the promises of God in the face of "the end of the world as we know it" and know peace, know power, know good, know perfection.

You see, then, that God's promises in times of trouble aren't a reason to do nothing. We ought to act. We should oppose evil and favor good. Why? Because we can fix things? No, that's only God. Because good will save them? No, that's only Christ. But the more our society aligns with biblical morality, the better off our society is and the more we work toward God's ends, the better off they and we are. That work must begin with sharing the Gospel (Matt 28:19-20). That work must include good works done for God's glory (Matt 5:16). That effort must be based on loving God and loving others (Matt 22:37-40).

The truth is we know the end of the story. The world doesn't go out with a gun shot, a president, or false beliefs. It goes out with Christ as the winner, the King of kings. When we lose sight of that we lose the peace we are promised. Therefore, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:6-7)
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:28-31)

Monday, March 05, 2018

Another Solution Eliminated

The nation debates (once again) gun control. Florida passed and then rejected an AR-15 ban in a 15-minute period. The event that triggered the Florida and national debate was, we all agree, horrific and unacceptable. There is no debate about that. But step away from that central locus of agreement and everything gets hazy fast. What to do? Eliminate AR-15's? That would seem an easy one since the kid that did the latest atrocity used one. Ban assault weapons? Well, sure. Arm teachers? Makes sense. Raise the minimum age for buying guns? Of course!

But I'm sure by now you can also hear the objections to all of these. In the past 5 years knives have accounted for 500 times as many deaths as rifles. Why target the AR-15? "It's only used for killing." That is both demonstrably not true and not the point. Ban assault weapons? Maybe ... if we could come to some agreement of what constitutes "assault weapons." Arm teachers? Seems reasonable on the surface, but teachers don't want it, let alone many others. "Well, then, an armed police officer on the premises." You'd think that would work, except there was just such a person on the campus of the Florida school shooting and it didn't make an iota of difference. Throw in the fact that in every mass killing in the last 10 years the laws were broken or not applied in order to get to the point of the killings, and we really get confused. The Sandy Hook killer killed his mother and stole the weapons he used. What laws would have made that work? The perpetrator of the church killing in Texas was documented with mental problems and as dangerous, but the reports never made it to the weapon purchase points. How do we fix that? This most recent killer was also a known danger. Why didn't the law prevent him from buying a weapon?

The point is not gun laws or gun bans. The point is that the system is broken. And by "system" I don't just mean "gun control" or the like. Yes, those are broken, too, but it is so much more. We have no means of intervening in the lives of those who would perpetrate these kinds of crimes. Between "rights" and "privacy" and the lack of mental health care and the disengagement our current society indulges by means of video games and social media and the failure of authorities to properly respond and manage these issues and -- the list goes on and on -- we have no means to deal with this. On the other hand, sane, rational, caring people think that taking away a rifle will solve these kinds of things. Sane, caring, rational people are, simultaneously, appalled that an armed officer would be present at a school and that he would not use that weapon to stop a shooting. It's what we call cognitive dissonance. We don't know how to handle this stuff and we don't know how to think about this stuff. But what we do know is that the kids know how to fix it ... right?

We need to work through these things. We need first to recognize that we cannot fix it. We might be able to affect it, mitigate it, slow it, but we cannot fix it. Neither a totalitarian government who takes away all guns and holds its subjects under its thumb nor a libertarian government that lets its people do as they see fit have solutions for this problem. All claim that they do; they don't. Because the second thing we need to recognize is that the problem is not the weapons or the mental health issues or the age at which guns are purchased or the presence or lack thereof of an armed officer. The problem is us. The problem is the sin that infiltrates and permeates our society. Clearly something has changed over time because these killings have increased. No one seems to be asking, "What changed?" We've always had guns. We've always had mental health issues. We've always had murders. What has changed that causes this to increase like it has? I can tell you it is not the AR-15. Biblically it is "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9) It is our embracing of the human heart as the ultimate source of wisdom and goodness in the face of all evidence to the contrary and the wholesale and systematic rejection of biblical morality. We declare that killing babies is good if a mother wants to do it and declare that marriage means whatever we want it to mean and declare that how you feel is good and right. And they kill because they want to without a firm definition of right and wrong because it's how they feel and it's good and right. We strip off morality and wonder why morality is failing.

I'm not a radical gun proponent. I'm not opposed to reasonable gun control. I am concerned with the talk that perhaps we ought to eliminate the 2nd Amendment because it seems as if others would follow closely and I'm not at all sure that would be a good thing. But I'm mostly concerned that we are fighting tooth and nail to solve a problem with methods that don't address the problem, and we'll dismantle more than we intended in doing it. I'm concerned that we are not addressing the failure of enforcing the existing laws in these discussions and then concluding that more laws will help. I'm concerned that fewer and fewer people are able to think logically about these things and respond solely with the emotion of it. I'm concerned that the Answer is being asked to leave the public debate and "Please keep Yourself only in the private arena." And I'm concerned that too many of us who know Jesus are keeping quiet as a result.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Pray at all Times (Eph 6:18)

In his discourse with his friends, Job speaks of the wicked who say to God, "Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of Your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? And what profit do we get if we pray to Him?" (Job 21:14-15) We, of course, wouldn't be so foolish as to say such things to God ... would we?

Paul wrote, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thess 5:16-18) That's a whole lot of superlatives. "Always", "without ceasing", "in all circumstances"; and it if you ever wanted to know what God's will for your life is, that's some of it plain and simple. Would you say it is a mark of your life that you are a pray-er, a person of prayer, a person who prays without ceasing, who is constantly giving thanks to God for everything? Or would you tend more toward the sense if not the outright question, "What profit do we get if we pray to Him?"

We are commanded to pray. We are to pray for the purpose of seeking God's face and repentance (2 Chron 7:14). We are to pray for the people around us (Jer 29:7). We are to pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-2). We are to pray for our persecutors (Matt 5:44). Jesus prayed apart from His disciples (Luke 6:12), prayed with His disciples (Luke 9:28), and taught them to how pray (Luke 11:1-4). One thing He taught them was "that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." (Luke 18:1-8) And still, we tend not to be praying people. We tend toward the sense of "What profit do we get if we pray to Him?"

The most basic definition of prayer is simply "talking to God". Some might try to tell you that it changes God's mind; it doesn't (1 Sam 15:29). Some give the impression that it's our way to twist God's arm to get what we want or to make Him our "butler"; it's not (James 1:6-8; James 4:3). "So, if we can't persuade God to do what we want and if God doesn't always answer our prayer, what's the point? If God already knows everything and is all powerful and sovereign and will do what He pleases, why pray? Doesn't the Bible even say we do not know how to pray (Rom 8:26)?" Or, "What profit do we get if we pray to Him?"

The easiest answer is "Because He said so." Prayer is repeatedly commanded, so we are to do it. But it is also a means God uses to accomplish His will. So we pray for guidance and we pray for help and we pray for others and we pray for ourselves -- to overcome temptation, to be strengthened, etc. We pray for His will (1 John 5:14-15). We do not have, we are told, because we do not ask (James 4:2). So we pray. We pray out of gratitude. We pray to know God more fully. We pray to know ourselves more fully. Prayer doesn't change God, but it changes us. So we pray to enhance our relationship with God. We pray because He likes us to.

I don't pray enough. I need to pray more. Let's see ... what is God's standard for "enough praying"? Oh, yeah -- without ceasing. No, I don't pray enough. I suspect I'm not alone in that. I suspect that some of you might be in the same boat.
Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto Thee will I pray. My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up. (Psa 5:1-3)

Saturday, March 03, 2018

News Weakly - 3/3/2018

This is what I'm talking about
On one or two (or, if I'm honest, quite a few more) occasions I've voiced my concern about language and definitions or, rather, their demise. This story illustrates it perfectly. I am not saying the ruling in the case was right or wrong, the courts were in error or correct, or any other message. I'm simply pointing to language.

In the story, The appeals court in Manhattan overturned its own previous rulings in a case regarding workplace discrimination. A skydiving instructor claimed he was fired because he was gay. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of "sex, race, color, national origin and religion." (Note: The guy died in 2010, but the court case goes on.) Now, on the basis of which of those factors was the guy discriminated against? None. Not one. Except "'Sexual orientation discrimination -- which is motivated by an employer's opposition to romantic association between particular sexes -- is discrimination based on the employee's own sex,' Judge Robert Katzmann wrote." Now "sex" -- once indicating "gender" -- has been redefined to include "sexual orientation". In the ruling of the court they explicitly acknowledged, "legal doctrine evolves." And that, my friend, is a conscious, intentional redefinition of terms.

When Alice (of Alice in Wonderland) questioned Humpty Dumpty about his use of a particular word, he ridiculed her. "I don't know what you mean by 'glory'," Alice said. "Of course you don't -- till I tell you," he replied. "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." Welcome to Humpty Dumpty's world. What Lewis Carroll ridiculed in his Through the Looking-Glass in 1872 we are decreeing as law in the 21st century.

Quality of Life
According to a U.S. News study, California is ranked as the "worst quality of life". "Quality of life"? According to the study, "quality of life" "tracks states' air quality, pollution, voter participation, social support and more." So, why does California rank last? The U.S. News suggests it's because Californians are "simply insufferable."

Now, wait a minute. I know (and love) some Californians. They're not insufferable. And, hey, isn't California the "liberal" state, the basis of the "Left coast", the "sanctuary state"? Isn't this the closest we can get to Utopia on Earth today? Hmmm, maybe not.

This is why we need teachers
The story isn't nearly as interesting to me as the story. I mean, the news item is fine: "New satellite photos show Iran establishing another base in Syria." "Oh my! Someone do something!" Great. But I was really disappointed when a professional news outlet released an exclusive story about Iran building a military base outside of Syria's capital city "complete with hangers." Really? They are including devices on which to hang clothes? How dare they??!! Now, if these were hangars, it might be a threat to Israel, but I'm not sure why anyone would be up in arms over too many Iranian clothes hung in their vicinity.

A couple of years back a local school district was mulling the possibility of ditching the teaching of spelling. "Why bother?" they mused. "These kids all have spellcheckers." I have been called homophobic, although it isn't accurate. I think I might be homophonophobic because homophones can be scary. And spellcheckers can't tell the difference.

Filed Under "Must Be True"
I'm not sure which story I liked best. Was it the story about how the nation that calls Trump "Hitler" demands that he take all guns away? Or was it the one about how we're so fed up with the violence that we are demanding "common-sense abortion control"?

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, March 02, 2018


In most discussions these days on the topic of "transgender" or "gender dysphoria" and the like, one side will generally tend toward, "But science is quite clear on the subject" and the other will often go to "Oh, yeah? What about intersex?" So ... what is "intersex"?

According to the Intersex Society of North America, "'Intersex' is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male." The term is specifically about biological anomalies in the X and Y chromosomes that are the first definition of gender. The nuclei of human cells contain 2 sex chromosomes. The sex chromosomes in females are 2 X chromosomes while males have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. In the intersex, there are ... variations. In total, these variations amount to something like 1% of births. As it turns out, however, the majority of these variations are not gender redefining -- a large number of these variations cause no sexual ambiguity. For example, if the normal female is XX and a variation is XXX or XXXX or XXXXX (yes, those occur), these variations would be classified as "super female", not "ambiguous." The most common anomaly is called Klinefelter syndrome and is defined as a male who is XXY. The Mayo Clinic states that this is a "genetic condition that results when a boy is born with an extra copy of the X chromosome." (Notice, "a boy".) The XXY anomaly occurs in roughly 1 in 1,000 live births (0.1%). The Mayo Clinic article goes on to say,
Klinefelter syndrome may adversely affect testicular growth, resulting in smaller than normal testicles, which can lead to lower production of testosterone. The syndrome may also cause reduced muscle mass, reduced body and facial hair, and enlarged breast tissue. The effects of Klinefelter syndrome vary, and not everyone has the same signs and symptoms.
Note, then, that there are effects and variations, but in no case is this boy not a biological boy. He has testicles and penis and no ovaries or vagina, the most obvious differentiating points between male and female. In all cases, this is a birth condition, not a "feeling" or "personal identity".

Given the science of intersex, then, you should be able to see that there is a fundamental difference between intersex and the concept of the "LGB" part of "LGBT" as well as the "T" part. Intersex is not the same as transsexual (or transgender -- same thing). According to the medical dictionary, "transsexual" refers to "A person with the external genitalia and secondary sexual characteristics of one gender, but whose personal identification and psychosocial configuration are that of the opposite gender." One -- intersex -- refers to a genuine biological condition and the other -- transsexual -- refers to a personal identification apart from the actual biological condition. Which is why some use the acronym "LGBTI", recognizing that the "I" is not "T". Not the same thing. The test for Intersex is biological -- X and Y chromosomes. The test for transgender is "How do you feel?" Not the same thing.

How, then, are we Christians supposed to think about these things? On the surface, we know that two genders, "male and female", is God's invention (Gen 1:27) and we know that denying it would deny Scripture and make God out to be a liar. (Science concurs that "male and female" is genuine biology, not a "social construct".) So "transgender" is not in line with Scripture or science. But that's not the complete story when considering intersex. And at the outset, let's acknowledge that it's not as cut and dried as you might think. As it turns out, not one single concordance or search engine for any version of the Bible refers to "transgender" or "intersex". You won't find a direct reference. That, in itself, should urge caution in your stance. We must stand, for instance, on "Jesus is the only way" because Jesus said it (John 14:6). To not stand there is to stand against God and His Word. We must agree that those who make a practice of homosexual behavior are sinning and those who don't repent of it are in danger of eternal damnation (1 Cor 6:9-10) and those who disagree are not standing on God's Word. This topic -- intersex -- however is not listed in the pages of Scripture and we'll have to look elsewhere on this. We'll have to glean principles from God's Word to come to a conclusion.

So, what principles? Well, we know that when Man fell into sin, creation itself was "subjected to futility" (Rom 8:20). The principle, then, would be that "bad things" happen in nature. A child, for instance, might be born blind (John 9:1-3) not through choice or, as many have thought, as judgment, but through anomalies in nature. We know from that particular example that it was not outside of God's control and we know that it was intended for good, and we also know that this man blind from birth was not evil by virtue of his lack of eyesight. It would seem rational to view the intersex in the same way -- not evil by virtue of their biological birth condition nor incapable of being used by God to demonstrate His works. We also know that, as human beings, the intersex (as all of us) are sinners from birth and need Jesus. They are part of "the world" into which we are sent to preach the Gospel (Mark 16:15) and make disciples. It would seem, then, that we have our marching orders.

In the transgender debates people love to use the word "assigned" to designate where gender comes from. It simply is not the case. Only in the case of intersex can that word be used, where doctors make choices based on the "most likely". In the case of transgender, there is no question. Biology is clear. It is a "personal identification", not a biological one. These things are not the same. They barely hold any similarity. What is the same is that intersex and transgender ... and homosexual and heterosexual and cisgender and each and every one of us needs Jesus. For Christians to reject people on the basis of biology or even genuine sin when what they really need is Christ would be the wrong approach. It's the another version of what Paul said not to do. Paul said not to remove ourselves from sinners (1 Cor 5:9-10); we tend to remove certain sinners from ourselves. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not be. The command is "make disciples" (Matt 28:18-20) and that would include, well, everyone. The command is to love our neighbors (Matt 22:39) and that specifically (Luke 10:30-37) includes everyone. The world, whether tainted by sin physically or spiritually (or all of the above), needs Jesus, and we are commanded to love them enough to connect them to Him. Let's not allow some false sense of "moral superiority" get in the way of that important task.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

A Bible Mystery

Our group just finished the Book of Acts. There was an interesting tale near the end there that I don't think we've really thought much about.

Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem. He appeals to Caesar and, as a Roman citizen, has the right to be sent to Rome for trial (even though he would have been released if he hadn't). So they load him on a boat and send him to Rome. On the trip, they encounter some rough weather (Acts 27:13ff). They're trapped in this storm for days and fear being sunk. Running out of food and hope, Paul finally stands up and gives them some good news.
"Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.' So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island." (Acts 27:21-26)
Wonderful news. God's emissary, Paul, has declared a word from God that all hands would survive this. Can't get much better than that, right?

Well, things don't actually get better; they get worse. After two weeks in this storm, they find they're on the verge of shipwreck. The smart ones -- the sailors -- prepare to secretly escape with a lifeboat. Paul warns the centurion, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved." (Acts 27:31)

Now ... wait a minute. How did that work? Did you see the anomaly? Paul got a promise from the mouth of God -- everyone would be saved. Then Paul tells them that if they don't stay with the ship they won't be saved. Which is it? Are there conditions on God's promises? If God says "X will happen", is there something that could change that? How does this work?

Now, as it turned out, the soldiers cut away the lifeboat and kept everyone aboard (Acts 27:32). The ship broke up (Acts 27:41) but everyone was saved (Acts 27:43-44). That is, God's original promise was fulfilled. So, no, God didn't promise "X" and something else happened. So what was going on here? Was Paul's warning irrational or unnecessary? How does that work?

We often tend to read Scripture too easily. Now, we don't generally make this kind of obvious mistake, but it can be like reading Jesus saying, "I am the door" and envisioning Jesus with hinges and doorknob. A passage like this one should be read carefully, the explicit interpreting the implicit (rather than the common error of reversing that), and figure out just what it means. Just how can we have an explicit statement from God to Paul that all hands would be saved followed by a warning from Paul that if they did a particular action the explicit statement from God would not happen? Can you make sense out of that? I'll let you mull that over without removing God's Omniscience or Omnipotence or Sovereignty. Give it a shot.

(Spoiler alert: It does make sense. You just have to think about it.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Words Get in the Way

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Postmodernism is defined as "a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power." Key components there are "skepticism", "relativism", and "suspicion of reason." Postmodernism was a reaction to modernism (you can't make this stuff up). Modernism, a standard philosophical view of the Enlightenment, argued that there was an objective natural reality, that statements can be objectively true or false, and that logic and reason are universally valid and useful to make us better people. It was this last suggestion that, following World War II, produced the postmodern assault because, after all, our logic and reason had produced more death than ever before. So postmodernism argued against objective reality, especially in language, and the value and use of logic and reason. In language in particular, postmodernism held that it was not a "mirror of nature." Language was not meaningful; words are "never fully 'present' to the speaker or hearer, but are endlessly 'deferred'." Words are whatever you want them to be.

That brings us up to today. Now we engage in discussions, debates, and disagreements ... over words. Words, you see, represent a reality outside of themselves. We use them as symbols of some reality. But postmodernism has ripped out the moorings of words so that their meanings are always in flux for both the speaker (or writer) and the hearer (or reader). This is why it was so easy to rip the meaning from "marriage" and reapply it to "gay marriage" as if there was any correlation at all to the two concepts. Marriage always meant the union of a man and a woman for purposes of procreation and mutual support. Practices varied, but if you lived in a community that practiced, say, polygamy, and you were on your first wife, you were married. Even for those communities, marriage was not defined as "two or more wives". But with postmodernism serving to undercut language, the symbol that we all understood in the term "marriage" was irretrievably altered to mean ... something else.

We're currently looking at another big word problem. Jose Iglesias, a senior seeking to eliminate school shootings, argued, "No one needs an AR-15. They are only used to kill." The news item came from the story of the Florida House refusing to take up an assault weapons ban. And everyone knows that an AR-15 is an "assault rifle" and "they are only used to kill" ... right? As it turns out, it's not at all that clear.

Look it up. "Assault weapon: any of various automatic or semiautomatic firearms" (Merriam-Webster). According to Wikipedia, "The definition varies among regulating jurisdictions." They may be automatic (pull the trigger and multiple bullets come out) or semi-automatic (one pull, one bullet), pistol, rifle, and shotgun, capable of large detachable magazine or any detachable magazine at all, or having a variety of features such as pistol grip, flash suppressor, grenade launcher (seriously ... grenade launcher?), or "intermediate-power cartridges". (Do you suppose there is a succinct definition of "intermediate-power cartridges"?) (And why "intermediate" and not "high"? Strange.) The Federal Assault Weapons ban of 1994 included two or more things like telescoping stock, pistol grip, flash suppressors, an unloaded weight of 50 oz or more (?) a barrel shroud (a safety feature that prevents burns to the operator ... because preventing burns is a feature of an assault weapon?), or "a semi-automatic version of a fully automatic firearm." In that last, then, an AR-15 would have been banned since it was the semi-automatic version of the M-16, for instance. As you can see, defining the term is not as easy as you would like to think. Even the New York Times admitted that defining assault weapons was complicated.

So now we want a ban on "assault weapons". So we all agree that they're bad and we all agree that they should be banned and we all agree it should be the law. Except for the problem of postmodernism. Word meanings, you see, are constantly deferred. Today's "assault weapon" might be a military-style gun, but if someone tomorrow decided "Baseball bats are used to assault people", what would keep them from being banned? In 2014 the FBI reported that more than 5 times as many people are killed by knives than with rifles in 2013. In fact more than twice as many people were killed with "personal weapons" (hands, fists, feet, etc.) than with rifles1. I suppose it would be logical, given a postmodern perspective and the numbers from the FBI, to ban hands and feet. Hey, they were used for assaults!

Now, of course, this seems ludicrous and I'd like to think it is, but we've already redefined "marriage" and gender, as well as "tolerance", "hate", and so many other buzzwords hurled down to ignite flames and eliminate discussion. And people buy these words without discrimination (another word we've redefined). One person told me, "I'm in favor of gay marriage" and when I asked why, she said, "I know how bad I'd feel if I couldn't marry the person I loved." Do you suppose she thought that through? Do you suppose she considered the ramifications of "marry the person I love" as a standard for legalizing marriage? Because if that were the rule, then family members could marry family members, multiple people could marry multiple people, and it could only decline from there. ("Hey, what about my dog?" "Hey, I love the Eiffel Tower.")

My point here is not marriage or gender. My point is not assault weapons. My point is language. We think we're using words that mean the same thing and we think we're communicating common ideas, but, in fact, the most popular philosophy of the day is that the meanings of words must be in constant flux, must mean what I think they do (and if you believe that's the case, these symbols of ideas can have billions of meanings). So we sit and discuss and debate and disagree and we're not at all sure what anyone is saying, but we're sure we're right. (By the way, if you didn't think you were right, you wouldn't be debating it. It's not necessarily bad to think you're right ... especially if you are.) Where is the solution to this problem? If words have no defined definitions and people are free to assign whatever meaning they want to these things, how are we going to be able to communicate? Is this a good thing? The sad thing, of course, is that this kind of relativity is defining more of our times than objective reality is.
1 Please keep in mind that I'm making a point about language, not assault weapons. Yes, more people were killed by knives or feet than were killed by rifles, but more people were killed by handguns than all of those things. I'm not suggesting that assault weapons are not a problem. I'm talking about language and its seemingly endless variability.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


We are a schizophrenic society.

We label as "misguided" at best and "hateful" at worst those who reject the Science we affirm and then deny the science we don't like because we know that biology can't tell us a person's gender; that's a social construct. We warn about children who can't tell the difference between candy and laundry detergent and then look to children to solve our school shooting problems. We decry the murder of a dozen or two school children and defend in court the right to murder millions of unborn babies. We rise up declaring "not one more woman sexually abused" and, at the same time, demand that all a guy has to do to expose himself to our disrobed wives and daughters is to tell us he thinks he's a girl. We assert that there is no difference between men and women and then require that men who think they're women or women who think they're men be treated like the gender they think they are ... after we already asserted that there was no difference. We are opposed to the rich corporations from which we purchase our tools -- smartphones, computers, social media, and the like -- to oppose the rich corporations. We protest for our rights to speak and act in accordance with our best judgment and deeply held beliefs and protest laws that ensure people's ability to do so. We march for our rights and freedoms ... unless they are rights and freedoms we don't want you to have. "No special rights for you, you, or you ... but for these extreme minorities special rights are required." We are hateful and intolerant of people we deem hateful and intolerant.

And, ultimately, we look to us, the schizophrenic, to solve our societal problems, as if there is anything in us that could rationally be expected to solve our societal problems. We "go down to Egypt for help" and "trust in chariots because they are many," but "do not look to the Holy One ... or consult the LORD!" (Isa 31:1) We sing about "looking for love in all the wrong places", not realizing we're looking for self-help in the same way. And if someone says, "Hey, I can't help you, but I know Who can," we call them "religious" and "bigots" and "narrow-minded" and "blind". Frankly, people, we are not doing ourselves any favors, because Help is absolutely at hand -- ready and able to actually help. The Lord says, "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)

Our times mock "thoughts and prayers." As for me, "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth." (Psa 121:1-2) You go ahead and expect your children, your citizens, your political party, your "special rights" movement, your government, or whatever other crippled assistance you might trust to solve these big problems. I'll look to Someone who can.

Monday, February 26, 2018


I like the concept and practice of Apologetics, the rational defense of the faith. This is not about that. The term seems funny to our ears. "What ... you're apologizing for your faith?" It doesn't mean that, but it sounds like it. This is about that.

There are some Christians who take up arms with gusto and do battle. Sometimes they do battle even where they shouldn't, but they enjoy it, so they do it. There are some Christians who lay down their arms and sneak around the corner. Don't poke your head out. Don't be recognized as "the enemy" (because, let's face it, the world as a sinful system hates every genuine Christian). Just keep your head down and you'll make it through okay. Most of us, however, are somewhere in the middle. We'll take a swipe now and again, but we'll mostly deal in "apologetics", the lowercase "a" form, where we largely apologize for our beliefs.

A student I know was once challenged by a teacher. "So, you call yourself a Christian. Do you actually believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven? Isn't that rather narrow-minded?" He responded, "I know it sounds that way, but I didn't say it; Jesus did." He was right, but you can hear the appeasement in the answer. "It wasn't my fault. Take it up with Jesus." But ... aren't you standing with Jesus on this? Sure, He said it. Was He right?

In many similar ways, we want to appease others around us. We want to set aside the clear teachings of God's Word and soothe the antagonists. Oh, here's a word: ameliorate -- to make something bad or unsatisfactory better. We treat the truths of Scripture as if they're bad or unsatisfactory and we attempt to make them better, more palatable, more user-friendly. So when Scripture says that it is God's will that He demonstrate His power and wrath on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22), we "ahem" and demur from the position and point quickly to the exception, the "vessels of mercy" (Rom 9:23). More likely, we avoid the text entirely as too controversial and unfriendly. "Look, let's just focus on the 'God loves the world' kind of texts. Yeah, yeah, we know that there are some uncomfortable passages in there. Oh, those are Old Testament ... you can ignore those. Oh, yeah, those are not clear ... you can ignore those." So we apologize for God and His Word and try to avoid the controversy.

God says (this is an actual quote from God), "I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isa 45:6-7) Really? God creates calamity? Oh, no, let's not go there. So we ignore it or apologize for it and move along. Paul told Timothy the hard instruction to correct his opponents so that "God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will." (2 Tim 2:25-26) Really?? God may grant them repentance? As if God is even in the business of "granting repentance", let alone the suggestion that He may not do it. No, we'll set that aside and move on. Sorry about that. Just a misunderstanding. Let's look elsewhere.

Since when was it our job to apologize for what God does? I'm pretty sure He's not sorry about it. I'm equally sure that if we are sorry about what He says and does, we are in opposition to the God we claim to love. Now, we can do that in other human circumstances. You might support, say, Israel as a nation without agreeing with all of her policies. But we're talking about God. Either He is actually all-good and all-right or He is not. If not, He doesn't deserve our worship. If so, He deserves our worship and our agreement. Apologize for God? Makes no sense. We should probably stop that.