Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Standing on Thin Air

Last year Hillary Clinton told the Women in the World Summit that there was a problem, and that problem is you. Well, it's you if you're religious. "Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will, and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed." Hillary believes that law, resources, and political will have the capacity to change religious beliefs.

The Left is applying constant pressure for the Right to move. Move from where they stand now to where the Left is. (If anyone sees that as an attack on the Left, I should point out that the Right wants the Left to move where the Right is, too. This isn't an insult; this is the way it is.) Like presidential candidate Obama in 2008, the Left thinks we're too entrenched in our religious beliefs. We ought to be more concerned about things like Social Justice and feeding the poor and embracing the homosexual. We ought to go along with modern Science (capitalized because it is the name of a god) and throw away outdated beliefs in Genesis as history or the like. Our whole moral system is backwards, outdated, left behind. "Come into the 21st century!" They seem to think that time and society and pressure ought to be allowed to change religious beliefs.

Several years ago I spoke with a woman who was a Roman Catholic. She was divorced, in another relationship, and explaining to me why she wasn't marrying this other guy. It was, she told me, due to the Roman Catholic Church's views on divorce. If you divorce and remarry, you cannot be part of the church. "They need to change that rule," she told me. Many others have concurred on the topic of divorce and many other topics, such as women in ministry, abortion, homosexuals, etc. People believe that public opinion ought to have a say on what a religion believes, that a vote can be taken among the "faithful", so to speak, and we can change religious beliefs.

Given the constant press from all sides, what are we to do? Do we succumb to laws passed against us? Do we toss out our well-worn Bibles and pick up the new-and-improved Social Justice Christianity? You know, "move with the times"? Do we vote on it? The bottom line question is who gets to decide what our religious beliefs will be?

If we get to decide, be it Hillary's laws and politics or the Left's societal currents or our own vote, there are a lot of possibilities, but one absolute certainty. It isn't God's choice. If religion is something that we decide by whatever means, then it is man-made. This is why I cling so tenaciously to the Word of God. If God establishes something, then it is God-made. Of course, if it is God-made, then not our laws nor our society, nor our own personal preferences have anything to say about it, and what God says is what is true. We will end up standing against law, society, and even popular opinion, but we will stand on what is true. That may not always be comfortable, but to deny Scripture and evident reason is neither safe nor wise.

Monday, September 26, 2016

What do you believe?

Talk to any Christian and you will find basic agreement on basic beliefs. We believe in monotheism -- one God. We believe that Jesus lived and died and rose again. Basic. We believe that He was God Incarnate. We believe that the Holy Spirit is God -- the Third Person of the Trinity. We believe that the Bible is the God-breathed Word of God. Basic beliefs. And we agree.

It is said that you can tell what a person truly believes by what they do. When, for instance, Al Gore traveled the country with his "inconvenient truth" about the horrors of human-caused global warming, it became very difficult to believe that he believed it when we found that he lived in a house with a massive carbon footprint and traveled around in a private jet and in SUVs, all in opposition to his own message. His actions argued that what he claimed to believe he didn't really believe. So we must ask ourselves. What do our actions tell us about our beliefs? We may have the right words and agree on the right things, but do we act like we really believe them?

Take the repeated biblical claims to God's sustaining power. We read, "We know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, those who are called according to His purpose." (Rom 8:28) More, we read, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31) We are assured that in all kinds of tribulation and distress "we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Rom 8:35-37) Jesus promised, "You will be hated by all for My name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish." (Luke 21:17-18) These are certainties, positive claims from God on our behalf. So why is it that when tough times come we crumble? Why is it that when our world hates us because we are followers of Christ, we are outraged and terrified? What do we really believe?

We claim that we believe God's Word. Paul claims that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21). We know that being absent from the body means we will be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). We know this. Yet, most Christians I know are terrified of death. Why is that? What do you really believe?

One thing abundantly clear in the pages of Scripture is that those who die without Christ are facing eternal torment. Jesus spoke of it. The New Testament is littered with it. We're all sure of that. And yet ... how do we reconcile that certainty with our silence with friends and family? How do we correlate this horrible outcome for those we love who have rejected Christ and our fear and caution and outright refusal to warn them? It looks like, while we all agree that salvation is in Christ alone, apparently the torments we would experience in this world for sharing the gospel will exceed those experienced by loved ones and neighbors who spend eternity in Hell. What do we really believe?

It breaks my heart when I see someone claiming to be a Christian who falls wholeheartedly and unreservedly into gross sin. I wonder, "What do you truly believe?" It breaks my heart when it's my sin I'm looking at. "What do I truly believe?" When I come across something in God's Word that tells me I'm wrong, either in truth claim or in attitude or behavior, I am forced to ask myself, "What do I truly believe? Is God's Word true, or am I willing to set myself above it?" I have to ask myself, "What do my actions and attitudes say I believe? How does that differ from what I say I believe?" Most importantly, "What am I going to do about it?" Because, as Scripture is quite clear, "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17), and a dead faith does no one any good.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Blessed

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places ... (Eph 1:3)
Interesting verse. It says that "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" "has blessed" us. It's past. It already is in effect. These blessings already exist for us. It isn't some "pie in the sky" future event. It has already happened.

Further, it says that He has already blessed us not with some, but "with every spiritual blessing." Now, we understand that there are a variety of blessings. There are physical and emotional and economic and social and ... well, you get the idea ... lots of various types of blessings. This one is referring to spiritual ones. But it says that all of the spiritual blessings are already ours.

Keep in mind that "blessing" doesn't mean merely "happy". We tend to distill it to that shallow term, but biblically it is much bigger. Peter says that Christ, by His "divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence." (2 Peter 1:3) In this connection, the "blessings" are that which brings Him glory. In a more general use of the term, to be "blessed" is to have God's face toward you (Num 6:24-26). It is to have a close and personal relationship with God. Happy? Surely, and so much more. And keep in mind that this is not a general statement; it is to "us". He has "blessed us" with every spiritual blessing. That "us" refers to the faithful saints (Eph 1:1).

He has blessed -- an already accomplished fact -- us with every spiritual blessing -- all that there are to be had. I guess it's time to appropriate those blessings. Maybe a good place to start would be to read what they look like (Eph 1:4-14). Big ... really big. And a real reason to rejoice in Christ.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

News Weakly - 9/24/2016

In answer to your question ...
First, the obvious question. "Hey, didn't you just suggest last week that you wouldn't do this anymore?" Well, yes, I did ask the question. But this week I came across this Scripture.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Eph 5:11)
Perhaps, then, there is the need to expose the works of darkness as works of darkness.

Too Many Guns
The Guardian is reporting on a study by Harvard and Northeastern universities on guns in America that indicates that 3% of American adults own half the guns in the U.S. They note, also, that there has been a dramatic rise in gun ownership by women. The article had this to say. "Even as the US has grown dramatically safer and gun violence rates have plummeted, handguns have become a greater proportion of the country’s civilian gun stock, suggesting that self-defense is an increasingly important factor in gun ownership." Wondering about the desire to own a gun for protection in a country with "decreasing rates of lethal violence", the article suggests that gun ownership is an act of "increasing fearfulness" rather than "actuarial reality". Oh, wait ... what was that? Did they just say that gun violence rates in America have plummeted? Did they just claim that lethal violence rates are decreasing? Now, hold on. Isn't the left arguing that guns are making our world less safe and causing increased violence? So, which is it? Are we to surrender our guns because we don't need them or because they are increasing violence? I don't understand. (Funny, also, that the webpage with the article included a link to an earlier article from the Guardian about the dreadful frequency of mass shootings. So, which is it? Increasing or decreasing?) This is not a call for or against guns. I'm just pointing out that it we should never let it be said that truth has any bearing on the media.

Fallout
Last week I briefly pointed out the story of the NCAA relocating 7 championship games from North Carolina in the name of "inclusiveness". You might be tempted to think, "Oh, that's too bad" and move on. Don't. You see, choices have consequences. There will be fallout. The NCAA's choice to side with the LGBT forces on this takes them to the next step. "Good! Now that you agree with us on this, I'm sure you agree with us in the other places." Because, you see, the new demand is the elimination (in the name of equality and inclusiveness) of any organization in the NCAA that is not pro-gay. How can the NCAA not? "BYU’s policies are far more sinister and discriminatory than North Carolina’s HB2 law," they assure us.

Trust me, this isn't going to get better. First, "We demand tolerance." Then, "We demand new rights." Then, "We demand admiration, to be embraced for our views (and we'll call that 'tolerance')." Then, "We demand that those who do not embrace our views be punished for it." It was even suggested in the article that it is not possible to be a Christian without embracing these views. Don't expect things to improve any time soon.

A Last Farewell
The President gave his final speech to the U.N. this week. Good portions of it were aimed at his political foes, making "an impassioned rebuke of the GOP candidate's policies on trade, immigration and multiculturalism -- and a defense of liberalism and tolerance." (Remember, today's "tolerance" is not "to tolerate", but "to embrace".) There was talk about his failure to bring peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians. The two sides, he was sure, needed to reconcile deeply held differences. Of course, reconciling, "We're a nation and we're here to stay" from Israel with "We hate you and will only rest when every last one of you is dead" from the Palestinians will be difficult. He spoke a lot about "globalization" and argued that America would need to surrender sovereignty to a new world order (my words, not his) in order to get along in this world. "We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration," he said. Shades of the "one world leader" concept. I suspect that if Clinton wins the election, we can only expect more of the same, where nationalism is regarded as evil and religion is regarded as a problem.

Naked and Afraid
Recently Facebook made the news by taking down a photograph posted by a Norwegian newspaper editor. He posted the iconic photograph of people in Vietnam running from a napalm attack. Facebook removed it because it included a screaming naked little girl. Facebook said their problem was "it's difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others." This is where our national love affair with pornography has brought us. In stories we see on the screen or in books we cannot distinguish anymore between fact and fiction and you will find hardcore fans of this movie or that book arguing vehemently that such a thing is true when it was clearly fiction. In the same way, Christians decried the fiction of Harry Potter, for instance, as demonic even though it was fiction -- not intended as true. On the other hand, self-professed Christians read the very clear biblical historical narratives of the Old and New Testaments and conclude, "It's fiction, nothing more than myth. Instructive, perhaps, but not factual." Completely unclear on reality. In the same way, Facebook illustrated the problem that today's society cannot differentiate between the naked body and the sexualized body. It is difficult to create a distinction. In this case we've arrived at the place that "without clothing" mandates lust. (I wonder how this plays for Christians when we read that God commanded Isaiah to preach naked for three years (Isa 20:1-6)?)

The Ever-Baffling California
Last Monday California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to cut emissions ... of cows. Yes, that's right. California plans by force of law to cut emission of black carbon by diesel engines and flourinated gases and hydrofluourocarbons used in refrigeration and methane emissions from cows. You realize, of course, that cows emit methane by passing gas. The state dairy industry will need to "find a way to reduce methane produced by cow flatulence and manure." More clear evidence that sin rots the brain (Jer 17:9; Rom 1:28; Rom 12:2).

Finally ...
Okay, so we don't know the difference between pornography and a screaming naked girl as news. It isn't a unique problem. We can't figure out marriage. We don't understand "fiction" vs "fact". As words change, so does their concepts. So, just for clarification ...

No matter how much the media refers to it as "protests", a protest -- a right constitutionally defended -- and a riot are not the same thing. As in so many other cases, "because we said so" is not a good reason to think so. Any more than "Because Hillary said it is caused by systemic racism", all the while ignoring that the police officer identified as the shooter in Charlotte was a black man, does not mean that we ought to agree.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Freedom of the Will

Anyone who knows of Jonathan Edwards will know that he wrote the definitive work, The Freedom of the Will. I am not writing any such thing. I just want to examine, for a moment, what we know about the human will and its freedom and lack thereof.

Free will is important. We know that because if there is no free will, there is no free choice, and if no free choice, no accountability. That is, if humans do not have free will, they can't be held responsible for their sin or credited with their successes and Christianity falls apart. But what exactly is this so-called "free will"?

Some would like us to believe that it is the ability to choose what we want free from determination or constraints of human nature. It is ultimate self-determination. Others argue that the will merely needs to be able to make choices without coercion to be classified as "free". There is, of course, a continuum of definitions between these two from various points of view.

Now, I always contend that we must get our reality from God's Word (rather than asking God's Word to conform to our version of reality), so that's what we ought to do here. Unfortunately, you can't turn to the back of the Inspired Word for God's definitions on this one. Nowhere do we find a suggestion that "Free will means ..." So we can only figure out what it means biblically by biblical implication. For instance, we know that Scripture is plain about God holding us responsible for our choices to sin. We know that there are rewards for those who do right. Thus, there must be some form of free will. Those who deny it must necessarily remove our culpability for sin and credit for obedience. At a minimum, then, we can say that humans have the ability to make some choices without coercion.

What about all choices? What about all influences? This is the Libertarian Free Will, the notion that humans have the capacity to choice whatever they want without God's determinism or limitations of human nature. This requires, necessarily, the view that God cannot be actually Omniscient. He can be really, really knowledgeable and all, but He cannot know the actual selections that any one person will make before they make it. If the classical, traditional, long-held understanding of Omniscient is true, then God knows all things in advance and knows them perfectly. If this is so, then He knows what choices you and I will make. The problem with this is a conflict with the Libertarian Free Will. You see, if He knows in advance what choices you will make, then you cannot decide otherwise ... and your will is not free. Thus spake the Libertarian Free Will. This idea holds God's will in check, requiring that human will supersedes God's will leaving God with the task to "clean up" after us to accomplish His plans. Now, I'd suggest that all of this is impossible to believe, but what does Scripture say?

The Bible has examples of God intervening in human choices. In Genesis, Abraham told Abimelech that his wife was his sister (Gen 20). As a result, Abimelech took Sarah into his harem. Shortly thereafter, God visited Abimelech with a warning. He had taken Abraham's wife, and for that he would suffer. But Abimelech assured God he was innocent. God answered, "Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against Me. Therefore I did not let you touch her." (Gen 20:6) Abimelech believed what Abraham and Sarah told him and, therefore, was not culpable for taking Abraham's wife, but notice that God prevented Abimelech from carrying through to the logical conclusion of having sex with Abraham's wife. God interrupted Abimelech's choice ... according to God.

The Bible also lists areas of inability in human choice. Now, logically, it would stand to reason that free will cannot mean that people are able to choose anything at all that they desire. They cannot choose, for instance, to flap their arms and fly away. It is not in their nature to fly unaided. In this sense, then, it is reasonable to say that people cannot choose to fly unaided. And instantly we have a limitation to free will, a limitation of nature. We cannot choose to do that which is not in our nature to do. The Bible has other things that we cannot choose. For instance, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14) This says that Natural Man lacks the ability to simply choose to understand the things of the Spirit. It is outside of his nature. Conversely, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:9) Again, because of the new nature of the one born of God, it is outside of the realm of possibility to choose to keep on sinning. Another example is faith. We are often told to "choose to believe" in Christ. But Jesus, explaining why it was that some people not believe in Him, said this. "This is why (because some did not believe - John 6:64) I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:65) The language is clear. "No one can." Humans lack the capacity to come to Christ -- believe -- without the express gift of that coming given by the Father.

These are a few examples. It is not a comprehensive list. Still, it demonstrates that Libertarian Free Will cannot exist in a biblical framework. Humans do not have the ability to make choices without influence of God or human nature. Human nature prescribes our choices. God's Sovereignty prescribes our choices. Within the realms of these two arenas, we have the freedom to make choices without coercion, but this concept of ultimate self-determinism cannot fit into a biblical worldview. So, you decide. Is Libertarian Free Will -- the ability to choose in all cases apart from God's determination and Man's nature -- the only possible definition of free will? If so, you'll need to discard biblical texts. If you let Scripture apply its input to your definition of free will, I think you'll find a different version that 1) keeps culpability and uncoerced choices available yet 2) limits our choices to the framework of God's Omniscience and ultimate Sovereignty. If that's not satisfactory, you're always free to come up with another version. Just be sure that it can align with Scripture rather than vice versa -- twisting Scripture to align with your view.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Taste and See

In the third chapter of his letter to the saints at Ephesus Paul makes a prayer for his readers. Because of His ministry to the Gentiles and God's gracious revelation of the former mystery of His inclusion of Gentiles in His plan of salvation (Eph 3:2-13), He prayed
that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith -- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:16-19)
Now, to be fair, Paul wasn't well acquainted with the laws and preferences of the English language. Because of that, he could get ... wordy. So let's break it down. If you look carefully, Paul has made two requests on behalf of his readers under one cover petition. That petition was for them "to be strengthened with power through His Spirit." (Eph 3:16) That, in essence, was the overarching prayer.

For what would the Ephesian believers need this strength of the Spirit? There were two things. First, they would need this strength "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." (Eph 3:17) Second, they would need this strength "to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge." (Eph 3:18-19)

That last one is a bit odd if you read it through. Taking out descriptions and adjectives, it is simply a prayer that they would know the love of Christ. Hey, what's so hard about that? I mean, don't all believers know that? Paul suggests we don't. Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) claims it is much, much bigger than we realize. We know this because it requires the strength of the Spirit. We know that because of the conditions and descriptions he uses.

One condition is the empowerment of the Spirit. The other is that to know the love of Christ, we must first be "rooted and grounded in love" (Eph 3:17). Faith and love go together. Faith establishes love when it is weak. God's Spirit empowers us for both faith and love. And grasping God's love requires that we be planted in love, grounded in love, deriving our nourishment and life from love.

Having been empowered by the Spirit and rooted in love -- love giving us our nourishment and grounding -- we can then, by God's grace, begin to grasp God's love. Mind you, I said "begin to grasp". It is interesting that Paul says here that we are to "comprehend" and "know" (apparently these are not the same thing) Christ's love which "surpasses knowledge". There's a description for you of the love of Christ. That love surpasses knowledge. It is long and wide and deep.

Picture being out on a row boat in the middle of Lake Superior (the world's largest freshwater lake), vast amounts of water in all directions. And you want to "know the lake". You want to comprehend the water. So you dip in a cup and taste the water. Now you know the lake. But, you don't. You know part. To actually know the lake intimately in all of its parts would be impossible. Too big. It surpasses knowing. Still, you can grasp it. You can get a sense of it. You can taste it, touch it, feel it, swim in it. You can totally immerse yourself in it. You can begin to know the unknowable. That's the image Paul is painting of the love of Christ.

No wonder he ends up with a doxology.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)
Only Him who is able to do "far more abundantly" beyond what we could even dream -- using the power "at work within us" -- could accomplish this prayer. Paul wants his readers to know God's unknowable love. He wants us, by the power of the Spirit, to grasp the vast love of Christ. He wants us to do this by means of Christ living in us and on the bedrock of love. It is a daunting task, accomplished only by God in His people. We could spend a lifetime learning the love of Christ. It is ultimately byond our comprehension. But we can taste. We can get a feel for it. We can taste and see that love. At least, Paul prayed we would.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Drop Your Weapon!

I'm sure you've seen the shows and movies. It's a tense scene. The good guy has caught up with the bad guy and has the bad guy in his sights. But the bad guy has something -- a bomb, a hostage, some threat -- that gives the good guy pause. And the bad guy always says something like, "Drop your weapon." Now, if you're anything like me, you're screaming -- literally or mentally -- at the screen at this point. "Don't do it!" Because there is no sense. There is no reason to think that putting down his weapon will produce any sort of favorable outcome. The best he can expect is to become a casualty of the the bad guy's evil. Putting down the weapon makes him defenseless, incapable of protecting himself or anyone else. And, yet, time and time again the protagonist ignores my sage advise and puts down his weapon. As often as not, it does not go well.

We are currently hearing the echoes of this brash bad guy in our ears. Presidential candidate Obama belittled Americans who "cling to guns or religion" back in 2008. More recently presidential candidate Hillary Clinton assured us, "Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed." Liberals calling themselves Christians suggest we be less "biblical" in our views and statements. It's "bibliolatry", they suggest. "You're worshiping a book. We have reason and logic and science and we know that this book isn't nearly as reliable or as important as you seem to think it is." Yeah, we get it. You guys are opposed to biblical Christianity. Then we hear voices from within our camp. Well-known and even respected apologists argue that we need to put down our Bibles, at least when defending the faith. The world doesn't accept the Bible as truth, so you can't use the Bible to defend the truth.

There's a voice I recognize, and not in a good way. It is the voice in the Garden that asked, "Did God say ...?" (Gen 3:1) It is the voice that urged Jesus in the desert to take a shortcut to success (Matt 4:1-11). It is the same voice coming from the Obamas and Clintons and "liberal Christians" of our day. And it is the same voice coming from well-meaning Christians who think they know of a better way. That same defiant term from a vanquished enemy who is seeking escape and commands, "Drop your weapon." And to you, dear reader, I would yell at your screen, "Don't do it!"

Scripture is not unclear. In Paul's passage on the full armor of God (Eph 6:1-18), we are offered a variety of defensive armor, but there is only one weapon given. In our battle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers (Eph 6:12), the offensive weapon we are issued is "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6:17). It is no small weapon. It is more powerful than any earthly device we may wield. It is powered by the Spirit. It is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb 4:12) It is the singular weapon that God gives us that produces the required results. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Rom 10:17)

Scripture is quite clear. We are commanded, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow up into salvation." (1 Peter 2:2) Now, don't confuse this with the Hebrews "milk versus meat" contrast. Peter isn't speaking here about immature Christians. Peter here is pointing at the newborn who is completely sustained by the mother's milk1. It is all that is needed. "Be like that," Peter says. Find your complete sustenance (2 Tim 3:16-17) in the unadulterated milk of the God's Word.

In a world driven by "the natural", ruled by "science" and "logic" and "self", ultimately under "the god of this world", it would make sense to set our Bibles aside to do battle. We need to use their weapons, not ours. We need to use their thinking, not ours. If we hang onto our meager swords, someone is going to get hurt. "Drop your weapon!" But we don't live in a world predicated on "the natural" and governed by "the god of this world". That's only on the surface. Underneath we have a Sovereign God whose Spirit occupies His people. It looks like we're bringing a paper sword to a gunfight, but as it turns out we're wielding a spiritual sword in a fist fight. So when they -- be it our enemies or our friends -- urge you to "drop your weapon", that weapon being the Word of God, don't do it! Instead, like newborn infants, drink it up, imbibe it deeply, digest it, obtain your life-sustaining power from it. Let it nourish and empower you. Don't listen to the threats of the defeated. It is the Spirit-driven weapon God has placed in your hands.
________
1 It's interesting on this idea that God refers to Himself as "El Shaddai" (Gen 17:1). Bibles translate it as "God Almighty" or "the All-Sufficient One". The word "Shaddai" is a little bit fuzzy, you see. The best they can figure is that the term refers to "the double-breasted one" (not in terms of a "double-breasted" coat, but as in having two breasts). Thus, as a mother is all-sufficient for her baby, God supplies all that we need.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Days of Noah

Jesus said, "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah." (Matt 24:37) What did He mean? What were "the days of Noah" like? I mean, it could be a hint of when He will return.

Well, it might be helpful, in answering the question, to give the rest of His explanation. You know ... what did Jesus mean when He said "like the days of Noah"?
For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be." (Matt 24:38-39)
That's the rest of the story. Jesus describes the "days of Noah" as ... well ... regular days. People eat, people drink, people marry. Just like all the time. Is that what Jesus meant? Did He mean, "The days of Noah were like any day, so I could come any time"? Probably not. I think Jesus assumed that His listeners knew a little bit more than that.

The Bible gives us more information on "the days of Noah". There was the "sons of God" taking the "daughters of men" (as in "marrying and giving in marriage") (Gen 6:2) that offended God. After that He promised 120 years until He would judge the world (Gen 6:3). But there is also this key observation.
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen 6:5)
The implication here is that the key feature of "the days of Noah" was "the wickedness of man". How wicked? "Great." How great? "Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Oh, that great.

Jesus said, then, that His return would occur when it was just like Noah's day. Scripture gives us one aspect of Noah's day. People are characterized as having nothing but evil intent. Jesus highlighted another. They didn't know judgment was coming. They just went on about their daily lives without guilt, without repentance, without a care. They didn't concern themselves with what God wanted. They were defined as only evil continually.

Since my original question was in regards to using Jesus's statement as a measuring rod, an indicator of when He would return (not a date, of course, but a time frame of sorts), how close do you suppose we are? We are certainly sinking deeper into a world that doesn't have the slightest concern for what God wants of them. It's harder and harder to find anyone who cares. And I think we are getting closer and closer to an "only evil continually" society as well. I would only wish to suggest here that, given Jesus's statement, you might want to keep one eye on your relationship with Christ -- living to please Him -- and the other on the sky -- anticipating His soon return.
He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming quickly." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Rev 22:20)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Do Not Grow Weary in Doing Good

In Romans we read this somewhat disturbing claim.
"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12)
"Oh," they like to tell me, "that's just hyperbole." Maybe, except it appears as if it goes to great lengths to disavow that suggestion. It is not merely a claim that "no one does good." It follows that potential hyperbole with a clarifying qualification -- "not even one." No, it seems quite clear that the claim is a genuine statement that none of us does good.

How can that be? We all know people who do good things. We all do good things. Even bad people slip up from time to time and do nice things. I think the problem here lies in the definition of "good". I think we're looking at a God-sized problem.

When the rich young ruler approached Jesus with what appeared to be a genuine question, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18), Jesus's original response is a bit odd. "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." (Luke 18:19) Odd or not, you will note that it is a Jesus-based agreement with the Romans passage. "No one is good except God alone." It appears, then, that the standard for "good" here is not "doing nice things" but God. "Good" is defined as "that which is done by God."

I've believed this for some time, and then, the other day, I came across this. We all know John 3:16. Later on down the very same discussion we can hear Jesus say, "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." (John 3:21) There it is! According to Jesus the deeds that we manifest in practicing the truth are deeds "wrought in God." Or, "that which is done by God."

Lest you think I'm making a stretch of it, this is the same thing we see in Philippians. You are to "work out your salvation" (your work) because "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:12-13) (produced by God). We work; He does it. This is simply consistent with the overall claim that all things are "from Him and through Him and to Him" (Rom 11:36).

As it turns out, then, it appears that the Romans passage is not hyperbole. We do nothing good. The only good is that which God does. The only good that we do is that which God does through us. Isn't it amazing, then, that He would include us in this and reward us for it? So do not grow weary in doing good (2 Thess 3:13).

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Justice or Mercy?

The Bible paints a rather expansive view of God. We know, among other things, that He is just. Abraham asked, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Gen 18:25) with the expected, "Yes, of course!" implied. Paul calls Him "the Lord, the righteous Judge" (2 Tim 4:8). Indeed, it is this justice that gives morality any basis. In order to seek to be moral, one must believe in ultimate justice. If we believe that there may or may not be justice in the end, then there is no reason to seek to be moral.

Another abundantly clear attribute of God is His mercy. In one of my favorite passages we read, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)." (Eph 2:4-5) That's a big "but". And God is "rich in mercy". In Romans there is a contrast drawn between "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" and "vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory" (Rom 9:22-23). Oh, yes, God is indeed merciful.

So we run into a dilemma. Justice, you see, is giving that which is deserved. Human sin demands divine punishment. Mercy, on the other hand, is mercy is defined as not giving that which is deserved. Now, God is unchanging, but it sounds as if He has to set aside one aspect of His nature in order to act on another aspect of His nature. And that's a problem. That's a contradiction. How are we to resolve this?

Relax, dear reader. There is a logical and explicit resolution in Scripture. (I know you were sweating it.) There are those who would like to tell you that "God just forgives. End of story. You do it, right? Well, so does He. It's okay." Except this retains the contradiction. If He just forgives, then He is not just. If He is just, He cannot simply forgive. But Scripture says otherwise. Scripture says that we all are sinners (Rom 3:23) (bad news), but that we are "justified as a gift" (Rom 3:24). How? "Through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith." (Rom 3:24-25) See that? "Redemption." That is, a payment is made. Elsewhere we read, "In Him we have redemption through His blood" (Eph 1:7). Justice is met. In this "He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:26)

The question is, is God Just or Merciful. As it turns out, God is both Just and Merciful. Our sins aren't simply forgiven; they are paid for. We aren't simply released from the just punishment we've earned; Jesus bore that punishment. Only in this way can God be both Just and Merciful. And He is both without contradiction or diminishing of His own nature. God wins!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

News Weakly - 9/17/2016

I had an entire new entry ready for this week. I wanted to point out how Massachusetts will start requiring churches to change their position on transgender bathroom accommodations. I was ready to mention the insanity of convicted felons going on strike. I wanted to talk about the irony of the NCAA relocating 7 championship games from North Carolina in the name of "inclusiveness". I wanted to share a story highlighting the newest "evil" defined by "what you do that we do too but you're wrong for it" found in "cultural appropriation". I wanted to sound the alarm about how you, through your government, will be paying for their "sex change"1 operations. There is stuff going on.

But then I came across this.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil 4:8)
I'm just wondering out loud, here. Do you suppose it is possible for a conscientious, Bible-believing Christian to keep closely tied to the daily news outlets and Internet streams and remain obedient to this verse?
Whatever "truth" we like, whatever is honorable in our circles, whatever satisfies our sense of social justice, whatever highlights the lack of purity in others, whatever tickles our fancy, whatever inside joke we like to share about outsiders, if there is an excellent "gotcha" or anything worthy of a pat on the back for "one of our boys" at the expense of others, think about these things.
Ah, there, much easier. Wrong, but easier.
________
1 Two points. First, I put "sex change" in quotes because "sex change" is as unreal as "same-sex marriage". They violate standard definitions of reality. Second, I am waiting -- in accordance with the military's willingness to refer to Bradley Manning, now called Chelsea Manning, as "she" -- for the announcement from the military that they are pleased to have a new officer in their service. He was born Billy Bob down in Louisiana, but has since discovered that he is actually Napoleon. The Army is delighted to have such a capable and distinguished general in their ranks. Crazy, I know, but no more so that "sex change".

Friday, September 16, 2016

Biblical Faith

Hebrews 11 is called by many "the faith chapter". It begins with what most think of as a biblical definition of faith.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)
I'm not sure I agree. I don't think this is a definition as much as a description of its effect.

First, consider the sentence. What does it mean? Here the author of Hebrews says of faith that it is the conviction of the unseen, the assurance of things hoped for. That is, faith in this passage is standing squarely in the air. There is nothing underneath it. There is nothing seen, nothing sure. You're looking at something that others can't see (and, technically, you can't either) and saying, "There it is because I have faith." That borders on lunacy. You seem to be saying "I am hoping for something based on simply believing." That looks very unwise. Worse, is this agreeing that faith and evidence are contradictory? Is this defining faith as belief in things that have no basis?

I don't think we have to go there. First, the definition of the word used here, according to Strong's, is "to be convinced (by argument)", "to assent (to evidence or authority)". I didn't put those parentheticals in there; that was according to Strong's. The word means to have a conviction or to be persuaded, but it doesn't require "in a vacuum". It implies "for a reason or reasons". Maybe it's argument; maybe it's evidence. But it isn't mere credulity; it is to be convinced.

Let me give a biblical example. When the Israelites were in captivity in Egypt, they cried out to God for help (Exo 2:23). God, in His mercy, sent them help in the form of Moses. Their response? "May the LORD look upon you and judge you, for you have made us odious in Pharaoh's sight and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us." (Exo 5:21) Yes, there it is, a glorious burst of faith on the part of Israel in the helper God has sent them. Not! No, they were worse off than before. But time went by. They watched a total of 10 plagues -- 10 judgments from God -- fall on Egypt and not on Israel. This required no faith. It just happened. In the end, this group that cursed Moses were happy to grab their belongings (and a lot of the Egyptian belongings around them) and head out of Egypt. And in their exit, when Pharaoh once again changed his mind and pursued them, they found themselves between an army and a sea. So what would possess this odd band of people, when they saw a sea split in two and dry ground to cross, to walk into such a treacherous place? Why would they think they could do it safely? That, dear reader, is faith. This faith was built on experience. They saw God work over and over and over again (sight). Now, with waters parted, with something hoped for (freedom and safety) and something unseen (whether or not they would come through the sea alive), they walked forward ... on faith.

Faith is the thing that gives substance to things we can't see and certainty to things we only hope for. But faith does not operate in a vacuum. It is based on evidence, the evidence that God has supplied in His Word and in His character and in His past actions. It enables us to go from the known to the unknown with confidence not because we're blind believers, but because we've seen what God can do and have good reasons to think He can do it again. That is the faith that produces confidence in that which isn't readily apparent. That is the faith that enabled the people described in the faith chapter to do what they did. That is the faith on which you can walk through the toughest times with confidence.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Choices and Consequences

Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall stood up for social justice by kneeling during the national anthem. The cost? The Air Academy Federal Credit Union (AAFCU) terminated their relationship with Mr. Marshall. Why? "While we respect Brandon's right of expression, his actions are not a representation of our organization and membership."

I'm not writing this to examine whether or not Marshall should have knelt or the AAFCU should have terminated his services. I'm writing about how "his actions are not a representation of our organization and membership." The other day, heading off to church, a car zipped by doing easily 60 MPH in a 30 MPH zone. The only thing I caught clearly was the license plate frame. "Smile," it said, "God loves you."

I can't tell you how many times I've seen, heard, even talked to people who have both classified themselves as "Christians" and then seemingly gone out of their way to demonstrate that they are "of the world". I've thought, more than once, "Please, do whatever you want. Just don't tell anyone you're a Christian." Because these actions are not a representation of our faith and membership.

It is, however, not even them about whom I am writing. It is me. It is my own concern and conviction that I must not be one of those about whom people would say, "Wait ... you are a Christian? You are what a follower of Christ is like?" I must not be one about whom it is said, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Rom 2:24)

We are called to be a light in this world. We are supposed to be holy in all our behavior (1 Peter 1:15). We are supposed to come out from their midst and be separate (2 Cor 6:17). We are not to be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2). Please, dear Savior, teach me to be a right reflection of You, to properly represent You at home, at work, in the world around me, to Your glory.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Christian

You know how we have words that everyone knows what they mean and, yet, no one is quite sure? No? Well, I would classify "Christian" as one of those words. Sure, sure, you can see that word anywhere. It is applied to churches, to political groups, to individuals. It is so loosely applied that it seems to have lost its meaning.

Barna lists five "faith segments". Three of them are listed as "Christian". There are the Evangelicals, the Born Agains, and the Notionals. Evangelicals are "a group of individuals who believe that their relationship with Jesus Christ will provide them with eternal life, and who accept a variety of Bible teachings as accurate and authoritative." This is the smallest of the three that comprise "Christian". The "Born Again" group "believes they have eternal salvation through the grace given them by God through their personal faith in Christ, but do not believe in various core doctrines taught in the Bible." The third is the "Notionals" "who consider themselves to be Christian, but do not claim they know their eternal destiny (i.e., whether they will experience eternal life, eternal damnation or some other outcome) and are less likely than others to embrace core Bible doctrines." In the world of American "faith segments", Notionals make up 44% of the nation, Born Agains another 33%, and Evangelicals are at 8%. The rest are not classified as "Christian".

Evangelicals are quite different from all the other groups. They derive their unusual moral beliefs from the Bible and are more active in religious activities such as Bible reading, church attendance, praying, and sharing their faith with non-believers. The Born Agains, on the other hand, get their moral guidance from other sources including, most of all, personal feelings. They go to church and all that, but at a much lower rate than the Evangelicals. And they aren't nearly as likely to share their faith with others. The Notionals are much more "normal" -- like the world. They think they're likely "saved", but "not because of a grace-based relationship with Jesus Christ." Only one in ten gets their moral beliefs from the Bible. Not quite 40% consider themselves "pro-life". They attended church as a child but no longer. They generally don't believe the Bible is accurate, don't believe in Satan, and don't believe in the Holy Spirit.

"Christian", on the other hand, has an actual meaning. It refers to "a follower of Christ". It is one who is identified with Christ. And Jesus was abundantly clear. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:5-6) He said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) That is, key -- absolutely critical, indispensable -- to being a "Christian" is being born of the Spirit.

Interestingly, what our Bibles translate here as "born again" are two words: γεννάω -- gennaō -- and ἄνωθεν -- anōthen. The first means "born", but the second is not literally "again". It is "from above". (In fact, many Bibles have that in the notations.) While Peter speaks of God "who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3) and uses a term that means literally "born again", this is not the term that Jesus used. This new birth is "from above". As such, this new birth cannot fail to change those who experience it. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) Notice that He did not make it an imperative. "If you love Me, keep My commandments." No, He put it in the indicative. "You will keep My commandments." It isn't a question. It is an indication. John said, "No one who is born of God makes a practice of sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9) John says that one who is born from above lacks the capacity to be comfortable in sin. Jesus defined eternal life as a relationship with God (John 17:3).

We've shifted words over time, as I've often pointed out. "Christian" is not immune. Satan would like to shift it into meaninglessness like so many other terms. He has been largely successful. But it still has an original meaning coined in Antioch of those who were marked as followers of Christ. And we ought to be using the term the same way. Lots of people who classify themselves as "Christian" fail to meet the criteria that Jesus placed on the term. Many don't even know it anymore because the term means so little. But if you wish to classify yourself as "Christian" and have it have any significance, you will need to do so by being a follower of Christ. "Notionals" are not. Those who call themselves "Christian" while ignoring God's Word are not. And believing yourself to be a "Christian" while not is a genuinely dangerous place to be.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tearing Down Fortresses

I recently had a (very) brief conversation with a guy about whether or not a person, once saved, could lose his or her salvation. (As it turns out, you need to be very careful about how you word that.) Since it was not my aim to correct any fallacies he may or may not have had on the subject, there was no debate or disagreement. He was actually talking about how his former church friends (from a Nazarene church) were asking how he could attend a "once saved, always saved" church (a Baptist church).

It got me to thinking. There are subjects -- and I seem to have quite a few under my belt -- that seem to engender a lot of heat. I'm talking about in Christendom. Sure, we have the old adage that we're not supposed to talk about sex, politics, or religion if we're going to get along, but among Christians we should be able to talk religion, shouldn't we? Yet, if an "eternal security" type suggests to a "conditional security" type that the Bible teaches that God maintains all believers until the end, you're likely to see a shooting war. Mind you, it works the same in reverse -- I'm not just pointing at one. The same is true with the Doctrines of Grace offered to a so-called Arminian or an amillenial eschatology offered to a Dispensational premillenialist (don't worry if you don't understand the terms -- they're "end times" views). They don't sit down and say, "Well, interesting ... so, what are your biblical reasons for such a view and how do we get Scripture to agree with Scripture?" No, more likely they'll get written up on a "biblical discernment" blog or some such and classified as a heretic ... from both sides.

It is not my point here to point out which side of these questions is right and which is (obviously) heretical hogwash from Hell. My point is that I would love to have pleasant conversations, even in disagreement, with people about these things. You know, "iron sharpens iron." (Prov 27:17) That kind of thing. On this blog I write what I believe to be true. I give the Scriptures, offer explanations, trace the logic, offer the facts, all to explain what I believe is true. But I don't want people to say, "Well, Stan said it, so it's true." (And I'm fairly certain that no one does. They do, however, with other teachers.) What I'm hoping for is not so much persuasion, but examination. "Hmm," I'd love to hear, "never thought of it that way. Let's see if Scripture lines up with that."

Here's what I'd really love to see. I'd love to see Christians who have the courage of one conviction -- that God is always true, and the Bible is the reliable Word of God. (Okay, maybe that's two.) If you have that conviction, the courage would come into play when you find yourself faced with things -- people, ideas, your own prior convictions, whatever -- that contradict what you're reading in God's Word and you choose to realign your own views with God's rather than the people, ideas, or prior convictions you hold. I would love to see Christians who choose to stand on what God says rather than 1) molding what God says to match where they stand or 2) discarding what God says to stay in place. It is truly amazing to me how many Christians I see doing just that. "That can't mean what you say it means because this verse says otherwise." Okay ... but now you've just discarded the Scripture in question for your own pet verse.

I'd love to see Christians teaching each other the truth (Eph 4:15), seeking to mature (Eph 4:12) and establish (2 Thess 2:17) each other "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Eph 4:13) Instead, we establish fortresses built to defend against each other. I know I benefit from discussions, even with people who disagree with me, far more than from battles. I would pray that we could learn to practice the humility of Christ in order to be of the same mind (Phil 2:1-8).

Monday, September 12, 2016

We Can't Know

Years ago I was meeting once a week with a group of guys from church. At one point, as I started to uncover some things I hadn't seen before like the doctrine of Election, I started asking these guys (one was an elder and two were deacons in my church) about this stuff. One of them told me what has become a common response. "They've been arguing about this stuff for centuries. If they couldn't figure out which is which, I'm sure we can't."

This is classic. What do I mean by "classic"? Not the first definition -- "judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind." No. I'm using its second definition -- "very typical of its kind." It is a common type ("typical") of argument for this discussion. I've seen it in multiple places. Should women be allowed to be pastors in churches? Well, since a lot of churches allow it now and none ever did before, clearly they've been arguing about it for a long time, so we can't know which is right. The Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Oneness Pentecostals (to name a few) might argue, "The doctrine of the Trinity has been debated almost since the beginning of Christianity. If they couldn't figure out which is which, I'm sure we can't." See? Classic.

The response, however, while being classic -- a typical response -- is not a good response. You see, if "It has been debated so we can't know" is the argument, then we can't know ... just about anything at all. Most of science, all of philosophy, and a vast array of moral issues have all been debated, so we can't know what's right. Since the greatest concern to Christians is God and His truth, this argument would put an end to all of that. They've debated the existence of Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus for a long time. We can't know. Loud voices tell us the Bible is not truth, but "myth" ... at best. We can't know. Did Jesus die for our sins? Lots of people disagree, so we can't know. Is there even a God at all? A growing cacophony of voices says He does not, so we can't know. You see, if you take this as a standard, the best we get is not faith, but a nebulous opinion.

It isn't, of course, being used this way. This is the logical conclusion, but they don't conclude that way. What is really intended is "I don't want to think about it because I don't have any arguments to match yours or, more likely, I've never even considered it, but it is not my intention to pursue such a consideration, so drop it." It's a high-sounding smoke screen. "Don't bother me with facts; I know I'm right." Now, of course, maybe you'd disagree. If you were willing to admit "We can't know anything as true ... especially as 'God's truth'," then maybe I'd think that you were serious. And some do. I know. Some consider it a "higher position", a better place. "Don't think you can know anything as certainly true." "It's more humble," they say, forgetting that it's also self-contradictory because you do claim to know for sure that you can't know anything for sure. But it cannot be considered as conducive to faith or to Christianity. Faith, you see, is defined as "being convinced" and "being convinced that you must not be convinced of anything" is not faith. Christianity, further, is premised on faith.

I get it. I really do. Too much bluster and babble and battle is poured out over some topics. We seem to forget that, while we are indeed supposed to always be prepared to "make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (including other Christians), we are supposed to "do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). We are to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3) and speak the truth, but we are to do it in love (Eph 4:15). I get that too often too many get too agitated to have a discussion, an exchange, a dialog on what is and isn't true. But let's not let that be us. Let's not give in to foolish arguments that undercut everything in order to avoid pursuing the truth into which we are led by the Spirit (John 16:13). In the words of a bizarre TV show, "The truth is out there." Of course, Jesus said it best.
"If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
Don't miss the key point. "If you abide in My word." Don't miss the promised conclusion. "You will know the truth." Don't buy the "we can't know" argument. Jesus said otherwise.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Foxholes and Christians - Reprise

(I wrote this in the days following Sep. 11, 2001. I wrote it for myself. Not too many others have seen it. But today is the 15th anniversary of 9/11, so I thought I'd share it with you. It's longer than my normal post. I think it's worth it. I think it's something we must not forget ... and I'm not talking about 9/11.)

The events of September 11 and following have been shocking, frightening, unnerving, devastating. They have stirred emotions and responses that one wouldn't have found a week before the aircraft hit those buildings and killed thousands of Americans. In the aftermath, an interesting series of events has unfolded. A resounding "God bless America!" has been shouted around the country that has resoundingly evicted God from America. The masses have flocked to prayer services. Leadership has called on God for support. The President has declared that God is on our side. The old saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes", has been demonstrated once again. My question, however, isn't about these frightened people who are turning to God in time of trouble. My question is about Christians. In this new surge of spirituality, what is the Church offering? What are the Christians doing in the foxholes?

The public responses have been embarrassing at best. One Christian leader has stated that America got what it deserved. This is a running theme in many churches. We are a decadent country, and God is judging America. Others are backpedaling. "God didn't have anything to do with this," they assure us. "God is a gentleman." Some religious leaders are on a similar bandwagon. "This isn't God's fault – it's the fault of Man's Free Will." Private responses have been similar. Christians have responded with everything from "Kill ‘em all and let God sort it out" to "God loves everyone and would never allow this to occur." So, with this gaping national wound bleeding from our televisions and a mad rush for support and answers to the best place to find support and answers – the Church – all we have to offer is either an angry God who smites His enemies or an uninvolved God who was just as appalled as we were and wishes He could have done something about it.

What ever happened to the God of the Bible? This God seems to be a different sort of God than the one of which we're hearing from Christians. This is what God says about Himself in the words of Scripture:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble. "To whom then will you liken Me that I should be his equal?" says the Holy One (Isa. 40:21-25).

Have you not heard? Long ago I did it, from ancient times I planned it. Now I have brought it to pass, that you should turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were short of strength, they were dismayed and put to shame; they were as the vegetation of the field and as the green herb, as grass on the housetops is scorched before it is grown up (Isa. 37:26-27).

I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these (Isa. 45:6-7).
These are words from Isaiah, but they are God speaking about Himself. He says that from His viewpoint human beings are "like grasshoppers". He says that He "reduces rulers to nothing". He says that He destroys their crops. He says that He plans to destroy their fortified cities, and He brings it to pass. In Isaiah 45, God Himself declares that He creates calamity. This is the image God is presenting concerning Himself.

Does God cause bad things? It is important, in answering the question, that we understand that God does not cause sin. Very clearly, "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone." (James 1:13) But don't be deceived into believing that God does not cause unpleasant events. He says He creates calamity. And even in the sin of Man, God is not out of control. He doesn't cause evil, but He surely ordains it. Our clearest proof is our most blessed event, the death of Christ. No sin was more heinous than Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Christ. Of this event, Jesus said, "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22) In other words, God planned for Judas to do what Judas would do. It was foreordained. Judas still bore the responsibility of his choice ("Woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"), but his sin did not mean a deviation from God's plan.

Do not be deceived. God is sovereign. He plans the events that bring us happiness. He plans the events that bring us sorrow. It is all in His hand, and it is good.

Solomon writes on the same topic in Ecclesiastes.
Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider -- God has made the one as well as the other so that man may not discover anything that will be after him (Eccl. 7:13-14).
Solomon claims that God has made both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity. He claims that God does it for a reason.

Interestingly, throughout Scripture we see people who understand this and accept it. Job says, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). We would look puzzled at Job. "The Lord took away? And you say He is to be blessed?" But God's perspective on Job's comment is "Through all this Job did not sin" (Job 1:22). We see the same concept from Sarah in Genesis. She tells her husband, "The Lord has made me barren" (Gen. 16:2). Clearly Sarah is not happy about it, but there are two features present that we lack today. First is the absolute certainty that God is in charge. It wasn't "a fluke of nature" or "a string of bad luck". The Lord did it. The second is that, while she may not have liked the condition, she accepted it and worked with it rather than complaining. She worked in the wrong direction, but to her it was not "unfair" of God to do what He had done. To her, God had the perfect right to do what He would do, and He did.

This God is a different God from is being offered to many within the Church today. This God is a God who is intimately involved in everyday existence. This God doesn't retreat from saying "I am the One creating calamity." Instead we read that God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). David rejoiced in the knowledge that God had ordained all his days (Psa. 139:16).

Consider Daniel's viewpoint of his God:
The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god (Dan. 1:2).
This is a key example of God at work. Today's Christian would say "God does not do bad things; these things are caused by Man's sinful Free Will." The events described in Daniel are as bad as they come. Judah was overrun and sent into captivity. The Temple was overrun and its holy vessels were put to profane use in a pagan temple. It doesn't get any worse. But Daniel starts with the very clear statement as to who was in charge in all of this. "The Lord gave" them over. It wasn't pleasant, and it wasn't pretty, but this same Daniel who believed that God had actually given His people into captivity and His holy vessels into pagan use still stood firm in his faith, as evidenced by the rest of the book of Daniel. In Daniel's view, God Himself brought all this to pass, and in Daniel's view God was allowed to do so – it was "fair".

Consider Jeremiah's viewpoint of his God:
He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drunk with wormwood. And He has broken my teeth with gravel; He has made me cower in the dust. And my soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, "My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the LORD."

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth (Lam. 3:15-27).
Here we have Jeremiah standing in the ruins of his homeland. There is no doubt that Jeremiah is unhappy. Faith in God's sovereignty does not necessarily mean bliss. He says he has no peace. He says that he has even lost hope. Then something occurs to him that renews his hope. What is that? "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness." We know these words. They're in our songs. But Jeremiah lived them. He understood that nothing around him brought comfort; nothing around him gave reason for hope that circumstances would improve. His single source of hope was in the simple, sure confidence that God was God. While we clamor for joy or peace or blessing, Jeremiah said, "I've lost all that ... but God is good enough." Paul says the same thing. "I count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ." (Phil. 3:8) Knowing God is enough.

Consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's viewpoint of their God:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Dan. 3:16-18).
These three men stood on the brink of disaster. They were about to suffer a horrible death. So hot was the fire they were to face that it killed those who threw them into it. They spoke confidently, as we would have our heroes do. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire." "You tell them, guys," we cheer. "God can deliver you. Trust in Him." We're behind them. But they aren't lost in a false sense of "God only wants us to be comfortable". They recognize that this may not be His plan. "Even if He does not ... we are not going to serve your gods." Here we would typically draw the line. If God, in our estimation, is going to be fair to these guys, He must reward their faithfulness to Him by saving them. To do otherwise would not be right. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego disagree. To them, God decides who lives and who dies, and God is just in doing so. His saving them from the fire is not the expected result of their faith. To them, this is right. Their God is the One who decides. Their God is right in what He decides.

This is not the vengeful God being portrayed on one end, the "hands off" God in the middle, or the "He loves us too much" God being offered on the other end. This is the God who is intimately involved in the everyday existence of human beings. This is the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God who brings both affliction and comfort, justice and mercy. This God answers our cries of "That's not fair!" with the simple retort, "Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?" (Rom. 9:20) This God grants us suffering (Phil. 1:29). This is the God who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. There may be painful and frightening things in this valley, but "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." This is the sovereign Lord who "comforts us in all our afflictions" (2 Cor. 1:4) and provides a peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7) by never leaving or forsaking us (Heb. 13:5). We don't have confidence in God because He makes us comfortable. We have confidence in God because He is God, because He is sovereign, and because He will always do what is best.

We have attempted to "fill in the blanks" where God is concerned, and we have failed badly. When some in Jesus' day tried to do that, Jesus responded accordingly:
Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5).
Jesus' disciples made the same mistake with the man born blind.
His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:2 3).
In both cases, people grossly misjudged the circumstances. As Job's "friends" who gathered to inform him that his suffering was the result of his sin, these assumed that bad things do not happen to good people. The premise is "If something bad happens to you, it's because you did something wrong." Jesus disagrees. "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate?" Jesus makes two clear points. First, not all unhappy events are punishment from God. Second, we all deserve unhappy events. We have tricked ourselves into believing that we deserve pleasant circumstances, and God is unfair or angry if we don't get them. What we have missed is that we deserve Hell, and any pleasant event in life is an act of sheer grace on God's part.

In fact, Jesus holds that unpleasant events can actually be God's plan, "in order that the works of God might be displayed." From the perspective of our Lord Jesus, our dire circumstances are God's opportunity to shine, to display His power, to show His strength. God told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). We view our pain and suffering as things to escape. God views them as opportunities for Him to declare His glory.

Did God judge America? Perhaps. Or did He merely withdraw His hand of protection? Could be. But it is folly to try to explain God's intent in the events of September 11 without a specific word from God. It is foolish to assume, for instance, that they are God's judgments and chastening for specific sins. Instead, we need to recognize that every bad thing that happens is part of God's curse upon humanity for our rebellion against Him in our father Adam. We dwell in a cursed world. So we should not jump to the conclusion that all bad things that happen are God's acts of retribution for specific sinful actions. Jesus' teaching in Luke 13:1-5 makes this clear. Every evil that befalls us beckons us to return to God Himself. We need to flee the anemic God offered by our therapeutic culture who loves everybody without discrimination. We need to flee the irate God of the other view that capriciously smites His enemies with wild abandon. The God we need is the God of Daniel, who sovereignly ordains calamity for good purposes. The God we need is the God of Jeremiah who removes tranquility while remaining faithful. The God we need is the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who may not meet our expectations of what we might like, but is certainly to be trusted to perform what is best. We need to see, with Joseph, that "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). This God is not a powerless god who cannot intervene, nor is He a "gentleman" who does not intervene. He is not subject to Man's Free Will nor given to fits of temper. He is the LORD God Almighty (Rev. 4:8), the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14), the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13). He is God of all, over all, through all, and in all (Eph. 4:5), for Whom and through Whom are all things (Heb. 2:10).

It is only in that sovereign, good, faithful God that we can find a peace that passes understanding in times of harsh crisis, and it is only that God that we can offer to the hurting world around us. Any other God is not God at all, but a caricature of the True God – an idol carved by human hands.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

News Weakly - 9/10/2016

Outlandish?

A man in Kansas City, Kansas, walked into a bank and handed a note to a teller demanding money. The teller complied. The man didn't run. Wait ... what? He just stood around until the police came and arrested him. Apparently he and his wife were fighting and he didn't want to stay at home anymore. He'd rather be in jail than at home (Prov 25:24).

Send out the clowns

Have you heard about this? Apparently multiple reports of "scary clowns" are coming out of South Carolina where the fear is that these clowns are trying to lure kids into the woods for purposes unknown. Of course, this wouldn't be a problem in Washington D.C. They're used to scary clowns. They call them "government".

They are all not of us.

At the recent Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) Onward Conference, Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, interviewed Andy Stanley. Now, if you're not familiar with Andy, he is the son of well-known pastor, Charles Stanley. Andy is senior pastor of North Point Community Church, a multi-campus megachurch in the Metro Atlanta area. Last month Andy preached that pastors needed to stop saying, "The Bible says." "The Bible tells me so" is not a good reason to believe. "Should we really believe something just because the Bible tells us so?" Stanley believes the Bible is not entirely true. That is, for instance, Adam and Noah never existed, that inerrancy cannot be defended, that basing your theology on what the Bible says produces faltering, failing Christians. In the interview played at the conference, Moore asked Stanley what he would do if he were the "Evangelical Pope", so to speak. (Now don't go getting your knickers in a twist. It's a theoretical question designed to figure out what a person thinks, not as a recommendation -- "We need a pope!") Stanley said he would do four things. He would have all churches that were "dying" (he didn't offer a definition) sell their property and give the money to "church planters" (again, no definition). He would tell preachers to "get the spotlight off the Bible" and back to the Resurrection. (How you do that without the Bible is completely unclear.) He would revise the Bible including a renaming of the Old Testament to "Covenant with ancient Israel" (because obviously it has nothing to do with today ... like homosexual behavior and such) and the New Testament as "Covenant with the world". And he would ban Christians from "judging outsiders" and force them only to ask, "What does love require of me?" (as if recognizing sin and loving others are mutually exclusive).

Now, to be fair, some of the intent behind Stanley's "Get the spotlight off the Bible and back to the Resurrection" comment was specifically in regards to evangelism. That is, if you want to reach the unsaved, you have to get them to the Resurrection, not to the Bible. While I disagree for biblical reasons, I understand the sense of what he's trying to say there. Still, if believers need to stop insisting that "The Bible tells me so" is not a reason to believe, then believers will quickly find themselves with nowhere to stand, no basis, and nothing they can hold as true.

It is disheartening to see a popular pastor offering the basic argument of Satan -- "Did God say?" It is sad to see the offspring of a renowned pastor demonstrating 1 John 2:18-20. It is a warning, in my view, for parents -- pastors or not -- to take seriously their commission from God to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph 6:4)

They will also persecute you

No, we in America are not being executed for our faith. We aren't being hunted, imprisoned, whipped, or a host of other terrible things that other Christians in other parts of the world are enduring. But Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:10) He went on to expand on that with, "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account." (Matt 5:11) In that sense, then, we are being "persecuted". Right? Or maybe you haven't heard.

Last June a public school in Palmdale, California ordered a 7-year-old boy to stop handing out Bible verses during lunch. You see, his mother made a practice of including Bible verses in his lunch bag. He shared them with friends. They liked them and asked for copies. She added copies. A teacher informed the child and his mother that this was not allowed. Mrs. Zavala complied and her son only shared those things off campus. So the school sent a deputy sheriff to see that it didn't happen at all.

It is only fair to point out that the school has just managed to perform a complete 180. "The school has now sent a letter through its legal counsel informing the boy that he's free to share his religious message with fellow students at the campus as long as he doesn't do it during instructional time. Mr. and Mrs. Zavala were also informed that they're free to pack a daily note for their son in his lunch box." Good news, but the issue in a country where religious freedom is constitutionally protected should never have come up. The obvious conclusion is that it will again.

Lest we lose sight of reality, there is substantially real persecution going on in the world and we ought to keep them in our prayers. ISIS beheaded 21 Christians in Libya. In Russia authorities have begun arresting Christian leaders as part of a ban on evangelism because clearly evangelism is terrorism. You can evangelize in Russia ... as long as you do it inside the official churches ... like it was in the Soviet Union of the 1920's and '30's. In Iran five Iranian Christians were arrested at a picnic. No arrest warrant was offered. One of the five was beaten. He was the son of a pastor arrested in December of 2014 and charged with "conducting evangelism", "illegal house church activities" and "Bible printing and distribution". The current condition or location of the prisoners is not known. These five are just a part of the crackdown on Christians in Iran. In August alone 40 Christians were arrested. Reports are that Christians are being persecuted (serious persecution -- up to and including death) in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Israel, Hungary, India, and many other places. Pray for them.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Success

The dictionary defines "success" as "The accomplishment of an aim or purpose." I suppose that is what most people consider "success". Very few, however, think about whether or not their "success" is good or bad. Consider, for instance, a bank robber who conceives, plans, and executes a robbery. He gets away with lots of money. Success! Except I think we're all clear that this success is not a good success. As such, it is a failure when aiming at anything good. Key, then, to genuine success -- achieving a good aim or purpose -- is having a good aim or purpose. It's hard to consider, for instance, Hitler as a success for taking most of Europe which was pretty close to achieving his purpose. We want success to represent something good.

Aimee Byrd tells of Gracie, a 49-year-old wife and mother of two, who is part of an "ethical non-monogamy community". Swingers, essentially, although Gracie differentiates between swingers and "ethical non-monogamy" in ways that are meaningless here. Gracie argues that "monogamy is monotony" and "Having sex outside my marriage makes me a fabulous mother." How is that? "Anything that keeps me happy and gives me energy makes me a better mother.” In other words, "It's all about me and my personal pleasure. If my personal desires are satiated, it's good. Anything else is bad." Ah! There, you see? "Ethical". At least, that's what she'd like you to think.

Gracie, then, is defining "successful motherhood" as "whatever makes me happy." That she is foisting off radical sexual sin onto her currently 11-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter is "good". She is a better mother for it. She's so concerned about the welfare of her children that "If my kids asked me to stop being polyamorous I wouldn’t. I could not stop being who I am, I could not stop living the lifestyle that is me."1 Because the best moms are the ones that are most concerned about their own personal gratification. Success! She calls herself "sex positive." Carl Trueman explains how she's actually "sex negative". I would argue that, while she would consider serial sexual immorality a success, most of us and certainly God (1 Cor 6:9-10) would not.

So what about us? Are we aiming to succeed at things we ought? Danny writes, "If my children get a good education, get a good job, and get and stay married, I will consider myself a failure as a father." Wait ... what? Why? Because he recognizes that this is the world's version of "success". Genuine success is to love Christ.

You see, we have just as much difficulty with "success" as Gracie above. She sees it as personal satiation. We see it as personal satiation, too, except we think our personal satiation is more ... godly somehow. We aren't seeking to satisfy our lusts like she is. Except we often are. More comfort, more money, more power, more pleasure. Not often "more of God". Even churches have difficulty with defining "success". They'll do it in terms of programs and numbers. "If our count goes up, we're succeeding. If it goes down, we're not." And it is "success" if the aim or purpose is to increase numbers, but no one seems to be asking if that is the aim or purpose that God has for the Church.

In the end, I suppose, that's what I'm asking. If success is defined as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, is your aim or purpose what God wants for you? Or is it what you want? If it is simply to satisfy your own desires, you are defining success in precisely the same way as our "ethical non-monogamist". You might satisfy your desires and call it a success, but God won't be impressed. And isn't that the ultimate goal of anyone who knows Christ? Don't we want to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:21)?
________
1 "‘Sex Outside of Marriage Makes Me a Fabulous Mother’: Woman Has Unusual Reason for Cheating", Independent Journal Review

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Husbands, Love Your Wives

It is clear (at least to any reasonable reader) that Scripture holds that the husband is to be the head of the household. The Bible repeatedly says that wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1-6) -- that the hierarchy is Christ -> man -> wife (1 Cor 11:3). It takes a carefully turned blind eye and skillful linguistics to wriggle out of this certainty. And, to be sure, the rise of radical feminism has surely produced many a blind eye and skillful linguist. But the Scriptures are not unclear.

It's not surprising, then, that equally blind and skillful linguists have twisted the other view. The idea, you will likely hear from husbands of this other ilk, is that men are to be the head. By this they mean husbands are to lord it over their wives. They are to insure that their wives submit. They are superior; wives are inferior. Headship is lordship and she has to do what he commands. As it turns out, however, no such thing exists in the pages of my Bible.

You see, if you examine the instruction sets for husbands and wives, you will find that wives are commanded to submit, but husbands are not commanded to lord it over them. What are they instructed to do? "Husbands, love your wives." (Eph 5:25-31; Col 3:19) Oh, and "Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life." (1 Peter 3:7) Now, let's see ... I'm looking ... I'm looking ... nope! It's not there. Nowhere does it say, "Husbands, be the slave-master over your wives." Nowhere.

In the Ephesians passage where wives are commanded to do what God commands them to do and husbands are commanded to do what God commands them to do, the text is preceded by a general command. We are to be "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Eph 5:21) Mutual submission, you see. Not "She submits to him and he doesn't submit to her." This is not a position of lordship. It is submission. Now, it is not symmetrical submission. Some (those blind but skillful linguists) will try to tell you that this is about mutual submission, so husbands and wives are supposed to submit to each other in the same way. This conclusion can only be reached by tossing out the explanation that follows. This mutual submission is not identical; it is gender-oriented. She is supposed to submit to her husband as to the Lord and he is supposed to submit to his wife by loving her as Christ loved the Church. How did Christ love the Church? He died. So while women are clamoring, "It's not fair! It's too hard!", men should be responding, "Submitting to a husband is harder than dying?" Better yet, neither of us should be complaining.

I implore you, husbands, to love your wives. This isn't lordship. It is submission. It is ever seeking what is best for her. It is leadership by example, not by fiat. This headship is the power to serve. It is divinely appointed and must not violate divine commands. It understands and honors, not overpowers the wife. It cares for her as he cares for himself (Eph 5:28-29). It mimics Christ's love, laying down His life for sinners. You can't really find in any of this some divine support for the overbearing, domineering, tyrannical husband that "wives, submit" brings to so many minds, including too many husbands -- even Christian ones.

Husbands, love your wives. Love them as Christ loved the Church. Lay down your lives for them. Understand them. Honor them. Constantly seek their best. Imitate Christ for them. Oh, and that whole "headship" thing? There is no command for you to insure her submission. Leave that to her to obey. Your task is to love your wives.