Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rock Solid

Edward Mote grew up at the turn of the century ... the 19th century. Born in 1797 to parents who ran a pub, Ed was a street kid. He became a cabinet maker and then found Jesus, becoming the pastor of Rehoboth Baptist Church for 26 years. His congregation offered to give him the church in which he preached. "I do not want the chapel," he told them, "I only want the pulpit; and when I cease to preach Christ, then turn me out of that." And Edward Mote wrote:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
Makes you wonder ... what "other ground"? Obviously the pastor is suggesting that "Jesus' blood and righteousness" is one place on which to build your house, but that there are others. What others?

Well, the terms alone suggest others. Many build their place to live on their own righteousness. By using a sliding scale that adjusts for everyone and leaves them "just a little bit better than that", they feel confident to stand there. If they aren't already "righteous enough", they're pretty sure they can arrive there eventually. Others build on "Jesus" without accounting for His blood. Today there are loud and constant voices assuring us that any God who would demand a blood sacrifice would be a barbaric God and has no place in our worship. But Paul warned the Ephesians, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). The Church, you see, was purchased with blood. God put Jesus on display "as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed" (Rom 3:25). "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him" (Rom 5:9). You see, "without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb 9:22). Oh, yes, many voices urge us to abandon this view of blood-bought salvation, but the Bible considers it fundamental, absolutely necessary, even a demonstration of God's righteousness.

Many voices offer many alternatives. Lots of sinking sand. But we stand on Christ, the solid Rock. We stand on Jesus' blood and Jesus' righteousness. It is the only solid ground for hope. And for that it's as solid as a Rock.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Calculating Easter

Easter comes pretty late this year -- April 20th. Seems almost arbitrary. Ever wondered how they determine when Easter comes?

Well, as it turns out, it is almost arbitrary. Not quite, but ...

The first number to keep in mind is the first day of Spring, the vernal equinox. That's March 21. Sometime between March 21 and April 25th will be the official Easter. (By the way, the Eastern Orthodox Church doesn't necessarily celebrate on the same day as the rest.) So the next thing you need to determine is when the full moon occurs. Find the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Then find the first Sunday after that first full moon, and you have Easter1! (Note: If the first full moon falls on a Sunday, then Easter will be the next Sunday.)

Why? Well, it's supposed to coincide with Passover. And this year Passover will start on Tuesday, the 15th of April and will continue for 7 days until Monday, the 21st of April. There you go. All clear. Right? (Don't blame me. I didn't set it up.) Glad to be of service.
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1 To be accurate, it may not exactly be the actual physical full moon. There is what is known as an "ecclesiastical" full moon (or "paschal full moon"), a date set by the early Church back at the Council of Nicea (325 AD), and may not exactly coincide with the astronomical full moon.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Irony of the Cross

Recently I wrote about irony. It was in the arena of current events. I explained how "irony" is defined as "the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning" and gave a current events illustration. Often it is humorous; not always. This idea -- words used that end up expressing the opposite -- is a key component of the Cross. Yes, that Cross.

Think about it. One song speaks of the irony of the One who made the seas crying out, "I thirst." I think that just touches the surface. The Cross represents the darkest moment in human history. Human beings rose up against God's Son and put Him to death. That event we call "Good Friday". Irony. Sinners did the worst they could do so that God could show us His best. Irony. In fact, Christ the sinless suffered the ultimate injustice so God could be both just and justifier (Rom 3:26). Irony.

The leaders of the day ridiculed Him as "the King of the Jews" ... which He was. Irony.

Jesus stayed on the Cross when coming off would prove the truth of His claims (Mark 15:31-32) to prove the truth of His claims by dying for us. Irony.

Jesus died rejected by the religious, the "Hosanna hosts", the government, His followers, one of His own friends, and forsaken by God so that God could embrace the "many" (Rom 5:15, 19). Irony.

Jesus surrendered everything (Phil 2:5-8) to gain everything (Phil 2:9-11). Irony.

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree' -- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith" (Gal 3:13-14). Irony.

Paul said, "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:2). Irony.

Jesus died that we might live and lives again that we might die to sin. Irony.

Satan achieved his biggest victory that day -- the serpent bruising the heal -- and Christ achieved His biggest victory that day -- crushing the head of the serpent. Irony.

There was nothing so horrific or so majestic as that event in all of history. Irony.

In the Cross, Christ became our Mediator to save those for whom He died. Irony.

Lots of good irony. I bet you could come up with even more. It was the reason He came. It was by His choice. It was the ultimate humiliation for our ultimate exaltation. Lots of irony. Lots of reasons to rejoice, to celebrate, even to be in awe. Not much humor, though.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Giving Up the Ghost

You've heard the phrase before. It's fairly common. You know what it means to "give up the ghost." We might use it to talk about a device that stops working, but most often it is a euphemism for dying ... because we don't like to talk about people dying. The earliest record of this phrase actually comes from the Bible, but this gets a little obscured because our Bibles are translations. So you will find references in the Old Testament to people who "gave up the ghost" and New Testament references to people that "gave up the ghost" and, as it turns out, these are mostly ... euphemisms. There is an exception.

The Old Testament uses the Hebrew word גּוע, gâva‛, to breathe out, to expire. Interesting, I suppose, because it carries the image of the last breath as well as the idea of the soul leaving the body. This, as it turns out, is the common New Testament idea as well. In the many places that you just might find the phrase, "gave up the ghost", or something like it, you will find the Greek word, ἐκψύχω, ekpsuchō. It means "to expire" (Mark 15:39; Luke 23:46; Acts 5:5, 10; Acts 12:23).

And then we come to the exception. Both the Mark 15 and Luke 23 references in the previous paragraph come from the Gospel accounts of Jesus on the Cross. When He died, all four Gospels say He gave up the ghost (depending on your translation). But two of them differ in their expression. Those two say He expired. The other two (Matt 27:50; John 19:30) use a different phrase. The Matthew version uses a phrase that begins with the Greek ἀφίημι, aphiēmi, literally "to send" or "to send forth", and ends with πνεῦμα, pneuma, the breath, the spirit, used to indicate the "vital principle", the soul, the life. The John version starts with παραδίδωμι, paradidōmi, to surrender.

"Wow, Stan, nice 'mountain out of a mole hill'." Yeah, I know, it looks like I'm being obscure. But wait! Note that there is a distinct difference between "expire" and "to send the spirit" or "to surrender the spirit". One happens to you and the other is something that you do. And there is where it gets interesting. You see, nowhere in Scripture is there a literal reference to anyone actually giving up the ghost. They die. It happens to them. They breathe their last. Over and done. But Jesus didn't merely expire. Oh, He did breathe His last, but it didn't happen to Him. He chose. That's something that none of us get to do.

The text indicates that when Jesus died on the Cross, He did it by choice. He gave up His spirit. He sent it forth. And that's the amazing thing about the Cross. He chose to die that way for us. It was the plan, and He carried it out willingly, even to the point of surrendering His life at the right moment.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hitting the Target

Give me a break. I was only a junior high kid. It sounded good when I said it. I don't remember how the conversation came about, but I remember talking to my 8th-grade teacher, Mrs. Proud, at the Christian school I attended about my older sister who had been her student before. We were talking about the decline in morals in society. I told her not to worry about my sister. "When the rest of the world is going nude, she'll be wearing a bikini," I assured her, as if it was a good thing.

Remember the story of the two guys camping out on the African Serengeti? They notice in the night the glow of a lion's eyes just at the edge of the firelight. One of them starts pulling on his shoes. The other says, "What are you doing, man?? You can't outrun a lion." He replies, "I don't have to outrun him; I just have to outrun you."

There's a point to that story and it relates to the first. Welcome to the standard measure. Ever hear of Godwin's Law? It's an Internet adage. "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches." What does that mean? Well, if we want to point out evil, all we need to do is mention the Nazis or Hitler. Why? Because we all know that they were evil. And we're all pretty sure we're better than they are, so we're better off. And so it goes. How about that drunk that lives down the street? "Well, maybe I drink a little too much from time to time, but at least I'm not as bad as he is." We comfort ourselves by comparing ourselves to ourselves. "That wife-beating husband is far worse than I am, so just because I'm not very kind to my wife is no reason to think I'm a bad fellow." And it seems as if we can always find someone worse than we are. So we're okay.

Jesus told this parable.
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:10-14).
We all know that the Pharisee was a jerk ... but we rarely notice that we're just like him. We compare ourselves to people we deem worse than we are and classify ourselves as nice people. But here's what Jesus said our standard was to be:
"You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48).
Ouch! Now that's a standard we're not meeting, isn't it?

You see, that naïve junior higher bragging about how moral his sister was failed to ask, "Is it good that she wears a bikini, or should she be wearing more?" Because the Bible calls for modesty (1 Tim 2:9). But my childhood standard was simply "a little better than the culture." And so we end up like the two guys on the Serengeti running for our lives and thinking we're okay because we're ahead of the other guy. You know lions hunt in packs, right? And that's why there is so much sexual immorality among professing believers and why biblical morals seem so far-fetched to us these days. We're not looking at those; we're looking at the other guy, and we're not as bad as that ... while the other guy sinks lower and lower and so do we.

Perhaps we need to reevaluate our standards. "A little better than the culture" when the world is defined as hostile to God (Rom 8:7; James 4:4) and under the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2) is a lousy standard. We have a higher one to meet. We may think we're hitting the target, but we're aiming at the wrong one. And you know that the biblical word for "sin" means literally "to miss the mark", don't you?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Biblical Definition

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband (1 Cor 7:1-2)
With that Paul starts the 7th chapter in his first epistle to the church at Corinth where he lays down some rather startling commands surrounding marriage. There is the command that "The husband should give his wife her conjugal rights" (1 Cor 7:3) and "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does" (1 Cor 7:4). There is the encouragement to remain single (in a world that thought it was stupid to do so) (1 Cor 7:7) and the famous "it is better to marry than to burn (with passion)" (1 Cor 7:9). There is that whole "Don't leave an unbelieving spouse" thing (1 Cor 7:12-14) and its subsequent, "But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so" (1 Cor 7:15). What is all that about "the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife" (1 Cor 7:14)? Paul takes a hard-line stance about remaining married and not divorcing and all that and it's all an interesting read.

Something in the middle of all of this struck me between the eyes, though. Right there at the beginning Paul says, "Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." At least, that's the translation we get. That's not what he wrote. What he actually wrote was that ἕκαστος should have his own γυνή and each γυνή should have her own ἀνήρ. "Wow, Stan, thanks! That's really something ... not!" Okay, that really was all Greek to you, so let me explain.

Paul said most literally (putting those Greek word translations in bold and italics) that each (he didn't say "man", but ...) should have his own woman (from which we infer "wife") and each woman (this time in context it just translates "woman") should have her own man (from which we infer "husband"). There, that should clear it up. No?

Okay, look, γυνή (phonetically gunē) means "woman" and, in context, can refer to anyone of the female sex. It might be a virgin (an unmarried woman), a wife, or a widow. It's any woman at all. And ἀνήρ (phonetically anēr) means "man". Any man -- single, married, or widowed. Any member of the male sex. Now, in our day we've managed to shift the meanings of "husband" and "wife" slightly to accommodate the latest redefinition of "marriage" so that two men can refer to one another as "husband" and "wife" or two women can refer to one another as "husband" and "wife", but this isn't possible in these biblical texts. The words mean "man" and "woman".

And Paul is saying here that marriage is solely the union of a man and a woman. It can be none other. In fact, every biblical instruction on marriage includes instructions to men ("husbands") and women ("wives"), the standard make-up of a married couple. Indeed, the two genders receive differing instructions based on their gender. Thus, the modern version of "marriage" collides head on with the biblical version and anyone trying to make any sense out of biblical instructions to the married would be at a loss to make heads or tails out of them with today's deviant1 definition. Now, they will try to tell you that there have been lots of definitions. It's not true. Or they will try to tell you that there is no biblical definition. Again, not true. And you know that "not true" is a euphemism for "a lie". The only way to align today's popular definition of "marriage" is to discard the biblical version. I would think that discarding the biblical ... anything ... would have its own implications about the religious values of the one doing it.
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1 I know, I know, "deviant" is a potentially inflammatory term, but just look at any dictionary. They will tell you the word simply means, "different from traditional norm". Even the California court that threw out the law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman recognized that it was the "longstanding, traditional definition", so the new one by definition is a deviation from the traditional norm.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Values Clarification

No, this isn't about that old "values clarification" curriculum from the late 70's. It's about my values.

The accusation is made that by declaring (with the Bible) that homosexual behavior is a sin and marriage is the union of a man and a woman, I am demeaning homosexuals. The nearly unanimous claim is that I am "anti-gay" if not worse ("hater" is a common epithet). I'm devaluing my fellow human beings. Loser.

Let me tell you a secret. I am not a great champion for animal rights. Oh, I think they should be treated nice and all that, but, look, if a cat gets sick and the cost of the cure is too high, I have no problem suggesting a lethal injection. Why? Because animals are not humans. That is, if you wanted to claim that I am diminishing the value of pets over people, I'd have to agree with you wholeheartedly.

What's my point? Well, if I didn't value the lives of my fellow sinners, I would just leave them alone. I'd keep my mouth shut. I'd be silent. But I do. I value their lives. I value their souls. I think they are important people. Most of all, I desperately hope that they do not spend eternity apart from God. I think that people that practice homosexual behavior are important and valuable enough that I need to speak up and warn them of a serious potential problem, even if it means that I'll be accused of hate and bigotry. I think that all sinners are valuable enough to urge them to meet my Lord, even if they throw the offer back in my face ... perhaps with something more solid included.

I'm not gaining anything by standing against the tide of culture. There is no personal profit here. But I value the homosexual and the transsexual and the bisexual and the sexually immoral of whatever stripe you care to mention. As such, I couldn't live with myself if I stood by and kept silent when God says He doesn't approve. You may consider that hate and you may think it's demeaning, but that just means that you just don't get my motivation, do you?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

'Nuff Said

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 1:24-25).
I thought I would expound on the text, but then I realized that, if my aim was to give you a reason to worship God, it should be just fine as it is. Nothing more needs to be said.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hypocrisy Defined

This last week the president signed into law an Executive Order "prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation." Why? Because the president believes that "full-time working women still earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men." And if they tell us it's so, it's so, right?

Odd thing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (yes, another government agency) says that unmarried women make 96 cents to every dollar a man doing the same job makes, essentially no difference at all. A study done by CONSAD for the Bureau of Labor Statistics compared a variety of factors including experience, insurance, fringe benefits, overtime, industries, motherhood, and a host of contributing factors and concluded that there was, making the truest comparison, an hourly wage gap of 5 cents.

But that's not the most interesting item. Using the standard comparison (annual income) which results in the standard claim (77 cents), as it turns out the difference on a weekly income is more like 81 cents to the dollar and an hourly income comparison is closer to 86 cents to the dollar. In other words, there appears to be a wage gap ... but no one really knows how much.

But that's not the most interesting item. Apparently, using whatever standards they may use, the White House staff suffers from an 88-cents-to-every-dollar wage gap for women. Their defense? "It is better than the national average." Not, "Oh, my, we have to fix that right away!" No, it's "You have to fix your problem, but we're 'better than the national average', so we're okay."

If someone comes into your office holding a package and says, "Look! I've got a ticking bomb going to explode at any second!" and does not run, don't believe him. If someone comes to your town and warns, "If we don't stop flying private jets and driving SUVs, we're going to destroy the world" and he got there by private jet and then an SUV, don't believe him. If someone shouts, "You've got to fix your women's wage gap" and won't fix their own, there's a word for it. It's called "hypocrisy". Look it up.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Without Love

We all know 1 Corinthians 13. You know, "the love chapter". They've written songs about it. It's that "warm feeling" passage about how wonderful love is. Makes you all gushy inside. Well, perhaps some of it. Because, you see, if we're honest what we're most familiar with, perhaps, is "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13:13). I've even seen it on secular signs. And, of course, the whole description of love (1 Cor 13:4-9). Except, I suspect, we've not really paid a whole lot of attention to it. I mean, some of the descriptors for love are pretty tough for those of us whose aim is to love.

The rest, however, isn't nearly as familiar. So it isn't a surprise that I got struck pretty hard recently with a single verse in the "love chapter" that hit way too close to home and cut way too close to the bone.
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Cor 13:3).
"Um ... yeah ... okay," I can hear you saying, "... so?" I know. On the surface that seems fine. But when you look at it for a moment, it is really hard to take. Paul gives a hyperbole about the gift of generosity (or liberality, depending on your translation) (see, for instance, Rom 12:8). He lists "all I have" including "my body". This person has given it all away. One would expect, then, a "well done" from God, but Paul says without love "I gain nothing."

Think about it. Love is primarily "outward bound". It isn't about self. It's about the other one, the loved one, the recipients of this love. When a person, then, gives away everything without having at its core the care of those that are loved, that is a pointless venture. It isn't generosity; it's a waste.

And I ask myself how many times I've done anything like that? How often do I do things and think, "I deserve some attention for that"? Every time I hear myself say, "I'm not getting the appreciation I deserve," I'm saying, "I did this good thing for me." It was for appreciation or recognition or something for me, but not for love. Every time I might say something like, "My wife doesn't show me the respect I deserve" I demonstrate that I'm treating my wife well for what I can get out of it, not for love. And no matter how good I may be, how well behaved, how kind, how giving, how thoughtful, how wise, if I do it for me, I didn't do it for love and I wasted my time.

We tend to think that good deeds are sufficient. The fact is that love is the command, not good deeds. Obviously good deeds follow love, but if they are done in love, they are done in self-sacrifice, not with the hope of gain. And I'm embarrassed to think about how many "good deeds" I've wasted ("I gain nothing") giving them with expectation of return and not as a function of love. I would suspect, if you think about it, I'm not the only one.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Objections

Here's what they tell me. "The Scriptures have been questioned on (the subject at hand) throughout Church history" and "They've been wrong about women and slavery since the beginning, so why wouldn't they be wrong about (this subject)?"

The question I keep coming back to is, "If Jesus claimed He would send the Holy Spirit who would lead His disciples into all truth, how is it that He failed to do so?" No one is answering.

So, the first objection is a question of consensus. "Since everyone throughout history hasn't agreed, the Scriptures aren't clear." No, no one actually says that, but this is the basic position. And this is a mindless position to take. Given that the world will hate you (John 15:18) and the Gospel is foolishness to those who don't believe (1 Cor 1:18) and Jesus Himself taught so as to give "the secrets of the kingdom of God" to His disciples while the rest would see and not see and hear and not understand (Luke 8:10), it would be a certainty that there would be dispute over Scripture. Consensus isn't the answer.

As for the second objection, is it true? Is it true that the Church has always been wrong about women? Is it true that the Church has always defended slavery? Now, remember, I'm not asking if it's true that anyone has ever been wrong about these subjects. I'm asking if it is true that the Church has always been wrong on these. I'm asking what the thread has been. Has the Church -- those who are genuine Christians -- always held an oppressive view of women? Has the Church always endorsed the slavery of the 18th and 19th centuries? Are those accusations accurate?

Actually, no, they're not. These objections are typical, coming from a blind view that seems to think, "If it has been recently, it has always been." Further, it imposes modern standards on biblical texts. For instance, you will hear about "women's equality" and how it hasn't existed in the Church for thousands of years. In truth, when Paul wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28), he was indicating equality. It was not however, the modern version. Modern "equality" means "equivalence". It requires basically that everything be the same. "Same" is not "equal". The idea of "equality" in human terms is "equal worth" because isn't it absolutely clear that no two people are "equal" in the sense of "the same"? "Equality" today requires that women be allowed to perform everything that men perform (and, apparently, not vice versa), but this isn't required to come to the position of equal worth. So Peter says husbands are to show honor to their wives as "heirs with you of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7). Equal worth. But by applying a modern version on top of the question, it makes a false dichotomy. No, the Bible doesn't call for "equality" in the sense of "everyone is the same". Nor should it.

Worse, there is a continuing position here that modern values and measurements ought to be applied to Scripture. If God's Word does not line up, God's Word is faulty. Of course, this is pure nonsense. If it is indeed God's Word, then we need to do the reverse. We need to see what God's Word says and then evaluate modern values and measurements against that. So if God's Word demanded unequal treatment or slavery or the death penalty for adultery (a favorite objection of so many), then we must favor it as well. We don't get to decide what's right over what God says is right. That is the ultimate arrogance.

No one is answering for me the question about how the Holy Spirit seems to have failed (assuming their objections are valid). Thus, my contention is that He didn't. I hold that the Holy Spirit has come and that He has led His people into all truth. As such, I would argue that, from Jesus onward, there has been ... the truth. Sometimes that truth has been mainstream and sometimes it hasn't. Sometimes it was bright and clear and sometimes less visible. But it has always been present in the Church. Now, of course, I need to emphasize that what I mean by "the Church" is not Christendom -- the visible Church -- but the Body of Christ. I refer to those who are genuine Christians, the "wheat" among tares. Depending, then, on the "purity of the field", so to speak, the truth would be more or less visible, but it was always present in "the wheat". So when I can trace a clear path from Jesus to today of a constant position on a topic, I see this topic as a serious matter to hang onto. Isn't it interesting that things like the definition of marriage and the sinfulness of homosexual behavior are things that were constants throughout Church history but in question today? I mean, I can certainly see why we might wonder about areas where there have been debates among God's people, but these are not those areas.

The question, then, is really much more basic than the morality of homosexual activities or even marriage. The question is about the reliability of Scripture and the efficacy of the Holy Spirit to lead His own into the truth. Either we have a Bible we can read and trust or we don't. Either the Holy Spirit has led His own into the truth or He hasn't. If the modern objectors are correct, then the Bible is not clear and the Spirit hasn't succeeded until the day they showed up and all of that is now in question. I'll have to stand on this issue until someone tells me how it is that, given the lack of clarity of Scripture and 2,000 years of the failure of the Church to get these issues right, the Holy Spirit did not fail. I'll wait right over here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Did God Say ...?

One of the absolutely clearest texts in Scripture on the subject of the morality of sexual relations between two people of the same gender is found in 1 Corinthians. We can look at Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13 and see it clearly, but you'll obviously be faced with the objection, "But, that's Old Testament. Do you follow all the Old Testament law?" We can look at Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). They'll tell you that it wasn't a matter of homosexual sin; they just failed to be hospitable. Now, trying to figure out how a lack of hospitality deserved such complete annihilation will be a little tough. And trying to explain how it was a lack of hospitality when the "big problem" appeared to be that the men of the town wanted to "know" the angels in Lot's house might be a problem. And how their desire to "know" someone might be satisfied by Lot offering his daughters is not so easy, either. And when Jude writes that Sodom and Gomorrah "indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire" as the reason for their destruction (Jude 1:7), well it just doesn't seem like it's going to hold water. But they'll stick to their guns. So we look at the New Testament.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).
Now, to the casual observer, this is pretty clear. First, it's clear that "the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God". Not a question. I mean, when Paul asked it, he was asking a rhetorical question. "Don't you know this?" He explains "the unrighteous" in terms of a variety of sinful behaviors including "men who practice homosexuality".

Now, let's be clear on this at the outset. Paul is not saying that everyone who has ever committed one of these sins is "the unrighteous" and doomed to damnation. We know that because of the very next verse in which he says, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11). So those who are washed, sanctified, justified cease to be identified as "the unrighteous" by virtue of being practitioners of these behaviors. Just as John claims that those who are born of God cannot make a practice of sin (1 John 3:9), genuine believers can sin (1 John 2:1) but do not make a practice of it. Just so we're clear.

But the argument is "You know that the word there isn't clear, right?" They will tell you that the modern translators are ... well ... wrong. It doesn't mean "homosexuals" or "men who commit homosexual acts" or any such thing. It means something ... else. What "else" it means may vary, but they're pretty sure it does not mean what the translators say it means. Some argue it refers to pederasty (homosexual relations between an adult male and a juvenile male). Others are quite sure it's a reference to temple prostitutes, not simply "loving sexual relations between the same sex." And they'll point to the problem that the word only appears twice in Scripture and almost never anywhere else and it's all too obscure for us to figure out.

There is an "encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture" online. It is in favor of GLBTQ folk. (I still don't know the difference between "gay, lesbian, and transgender" and "queer".) As such, to those of my perspective, in matters of debate it would be classified as a "hostile witness". This encyclopedia includes a section on Paul (specifically as he addresses GLBTQ subjects). What do they say about Paul on homosexual behavior? Addressing the content of 1 Cor 6:9-10, they say:
The meanings of these Greek nouns have been the subject of lively debate, largely provoked by gay authors anxious to show that Paul and the early church had not intended to condemn homosexuality per se as harshly as has been traditionally supposed, but only a degraded type of pederasty associated with prostitution and child abuse.

Recent scholarship has shown conclusively that the traditional meanings assigned to these words stand.
They point, as I have, to the parallel of Paul's arsenokoitai in that passage, translated "homosexual" or "homosexual behavior" in modern translations, to the commands of Lev 18:22 and 20:13. They assert (as I do) that the word, apparently coined by Paul, is simply the Greek translation of "men who lie with men" as a reference to homosexual behavior. They conclude that "the traditional meanings assigned to these words stand." They further conclude:
The bad news from the Christian Bible is that it condemns same-sex desire and same-sex acts without qualification of age, gender, role, status, consent, or membership in an ethnic community.
Evidence from a hostile witness.

Look, the texts (the ones I've listed and more) are obvious. The meaning isn't unclear. Most people, whether they are in favor of or opposed to the view that homosexual behavior is a sin, admit that the Bible teaches it is so. Arguments that it doesn't fall short of dealing with either text or context. Now, we don't live in a Christian world, so I'm not suggesting that everyone ought to knuckle under and do what God says. I'm just suggesting that it might be something to think about because the Bible has made it pretty clear.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

What Christians Should Do

"Why can't you be more loving?" they will ask (demand). "Why can't you be more like Jesus was? He embraced everyone!" That's what they'll tell you. Funny thing. Although it appears to be a truism, I can't seem to find it in my Bible.

Remember when they came to Him to ask Him about a nasty incident Pilate perpetrated on some of their people?
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5).
They came to Jesus with a fairly simple, even understandable question. I mean, a really horrible thing happened. "Was it due to their sin??!!" Jesus's response was not, "Let's not dwell on their sin; let's just love one another." It was "Repent or die!" And He repeated it! You know, somehow this doesn't look like "He embraced everyone."

Most are aware of the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple, but many aren't clear on the fact that it happened twice. That's right. In John's Gospel, it happened right after the wedding at Cana (John 2) and in Matthew it happened again after the Triumphal Entry (Matt 21). So, here we have not one but two times when Jesus goes into the Temple, overturns tables, and drives people out of the area. Now, I have to say, this does not sound like a warm-and-friendly "Jesus warmly loves everybody" kind of thing.

Whenever they want to assure us that Jesus embraced everyone, they point to the woman caught in adultery. Now, to be clear up front, this passage is problematic. That is, John 7:53-8:11 it isn't contained in the most reliable documents. And there is a serious problem with the story. If, as they say, the woman was caught in the act, where was the man? So there is a real reason to question the truthfulness of the accusers. Having laid all that out, however, what does the story tell us about Jesus embracing sin? Here's what we read (because this is what warms the cockles of their hearts): "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more" (John 8:11). But, wait, that's not what you will hear. What you will hear is "Jesus didn't condemn the woman caught in adultery." And it is, for whatever reason (Perhaps the absence of the man was reason to question the accusation?), true that Jesus at that time indicated no condemnation. But He did not say, "It's okay; I'm not worried about sin." He said the reverse. "Go and sin no more."

And who can forget the harshest language Jesus used? It was against the Pharisees and people seem to think that it was justified in this case. Because, you see, they're the ones that kept telling people that they were doing bad things, and that was bad, right? Right? Well, apparently not. Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:20). That meant that they had a standard of righteousness that was pretty high. Jesus said, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life" (John 5:39). Surely searching the Scriptures is a good thing. Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (Matt 23:23). "Ah, now!" you say, "See? They neglected the weightier matters of the law." Yes, indeed, but Jesus said of their tithing, "These you ought to have done." Do you? If not, it would appear that their righteousness exceeds yours. No, Jesus didn't give them the toughest tongue-lashing of His earthly ministry because they held people to a high standard. He did it because they were hypocrites. Hypocrites hold others to a standard they themselves aren't willing to meet. It's not that the standard was the problem; it was that they refused to aim for it themselves.

You will hear time and time again that we ought to be more like Jesus. By that they mean that we ought to be less concerned about sin and more willing to embrace everyone, sin and all. I am pointing out here that that Jesus didn't exist. The real Jesus warned about the need for repentance. The real Jesus warned about Hell (e.g., Matt 5:22; 7:19; 13:40; 18:8; 25:41; Mark 9:42-48). Jesus commanded, "Sin no more." Jesus warned against not meeting the standards God has set. So, by all means, check yourself according to Jesus's commands. Remove the log from your own eye. Don't be a hypocrite. And then be like Jesus, urging repentance and an end to sin, and warn against Hell. It's what a Christian should do.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Not Making Sense of it All

Someone help me with this, because I'm not getting it.

I'm not a big fish in the blog pond, so I'm not surprised that I don't get a lot of comments. I might expound on Reformed Theology and get a nibble or two. Sometimes when I point out the Sovereignty of God someone might have something to say. But for the most part it's pretty quiet in the comment department on these pages. And I understand. I mean, people commenting is not the same as people reading. I get that.

There is, however, one single solitary subject upon which I can write and I will almost certainly get a host of comments. I'll get comments and I'll get people contacting other people to comment and I'll get people writing about what I wrote behind my back and ... lots and lots of response. Outrage, actually. Now, to be fair, I'm not a big fish in the blog pond, so the outrage is fairly small, relatively speaking. No death threats. I haven't lost my job. Nothing that extreme. Still, I can say just about anything about just about any subject and I will get nary a peep, but write about the Bible and the sin of homosexual behavior and I am hit with all sorts of complaints about intolerance and error. In one of the recent exchanges I asked a dissenter "What would you suggest we do?" He said, "How do you treat fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (be they believer or believer-to-be) when they differ on whether infants or adults should be baptized?" The call, then, is to let matters lie. Don't make waves. Don't say anything.

So, here's how it goes. I believe in believer's baptism and you believe in infant baptism, so we should just leave it alone and be friends anyway. I believe in worshiping on Sunday and you believe in worshiping on Saturday, so we should just leave it alone and be friends anyway. I believe that homosexual behavior is a sin and you believe it isn't, so I should shut up and stop believing what I believe and agree with you. Wait ... how does that work? How does that make sense?

You see, I have lots of reasons to believe what I believe about the morality of that particular behavior. It's what I see in the Bible. It's consistent with all the other topics around it. It's consistent with nature. It's consistent with Church history. All well and good. So I hold a position. And in every other case it seems I can hold a position and no one will say a word except this one. So when loud voices complain repeatedly and continuously that I should shut up and change my beliefs to align with theirs because theirs is more tolerant and accepting and inclusive (which is contradictory because theirs does not tolerate, accept, or include my beliefs), it simply convinces me one more way that theirs is wrong. Which means that mine is right.

So here I am with my position. I'm not campaigning to make the behavior illegal. I'm not visiting pro-GLBTQILMNOP blogs explaining why they're wrong and need to shut up. I'm not writing my congressman or recommending deporting those who practice such things or ... I'm not doing anything to stop them. But my voice needs to be silenced by "tolerant" people who urge "inclusiveness" and "equality" by being intolerant, exclusive, and unequal. And I'm the problem.

Like I said, I'm not getting it.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Transcendance and Immanence

It seems as if we, those who are the followers of God, often fall off the track on one side or another in our thinking about God. Either He is too far away or far too close.

Transcendance is the word we use to convey the distance between us and God. Here is how God put it.
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa 55:8-9).
The sheer weight of transcendance was placed in a single verse in Isaiah 6, but we might miss it, not being from ancient Israel. There we hear the seraphim crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory" (Isa 6:3). You see, that word, "holy" means most literally "other". The word, qâdôsh, refers to the sacred, but more at that which is set apart. Did you get that? Set apart. And the repetition -- thrice -- is a Hebraism. It is like our underline and exclamation marks or italics and bold print. "Holy, holy, holy!" God is so utterly "other" that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. So when we start to think that God is our best buddy, we start to miss this point. When we think that He is just like us, we stray from the truth (Psa 50:21). He is "other".

So we head toward the distance between God and us. He's "out there". He's not paying attention. He's "other", right? This skips right over the immanence of God. Immanence1 refers to His closeness. The Bible speaks of "Christ in you" (Col 1:27; Rom 8:10). The Bible says that all things consist in Him (Col 1:17). Paul said, "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). He is more "here" than we are.

Error on one side gives you deism, the idea that God is so far removed that He isn't involved. Error on the other side gives you pantheism, the idea that God is in in everything. Ours is a middle ground. Never forget that He is above all, high and lifted up, not a man like us. Never forget that He is right here, every day, intimately involved. Remember both; both are true. Both are vital.
________
1 Not to be confused with "imminence", referring to the soon return of Christ.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Return to Babel

"It doesn't really matter what language you speak," I read recently. "What matters is that you're understood." This is so true. I often complain about the abuse, disuse, and decline of words. Their meanings shift, change, even disappear, and we end up using a word we think we all know in senses that are completely foreign to one or the other (or, in some cases, both).

The other day I was musing about one of the state of affairs in this country. There is a lot of noise about helping the poor, about assisting those without health insurance, about aiding those in trouble with their mortgages -- all well and good -- about equality, you know. Odd thing, though. No one is offering me any help. Why is that? "Well," I told myself, "that's because you're not one of the underprivileged." The term hit me. "Underprivileged." What does that mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, the term means "deprived through social or economic condition of some of the fundamental rights of all members of a civilized society". And Webster isn't alone. Dictionary.com agreed both from Random House Dictionary and Collins English Dictionary. It is missing rights. Now, wait a minute! When did this happen? When did a "privilege" become a "right"?

Indeed it did! Dictionary.com defines "privilege" as "a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most." The World English Dictionary uses the older definition, suggesting it means, "a benefit, immunity, etc, granted under certain conditions", but thanks to the evolution of English, we've pretty much blurred the distinction and "privilege" is no longer distinct from "right" or "entitlement". Indeed, "privilege" is no longer simply a nice thing to have. It is "rights and advantages enjoyed by the elite." You know, like that "1%" so hated these days by the 99%.

So, we have "underprivileged" which means "deprived of your rights" even though "privilege" was usually distinct from "rights". And this would suggest a standard of "privileges" below which you would be "underprivileged". There would be the next level -- those in the middle -- who would be the "privileged", and then there would be the upper echelon that we would necessarily need to classify as the "overprivileged". We should restore the rights of the underprivileged and tear down the overprivileged because that's just ... right.

Okay, so I've thrown out the standard definition of "privilege" that is distinct from "right" and I've been able to make sense now out of "underprivileged" since there is no distinction between "privilege" and "right". Just when I think I'm getting back to the "understood" section of the language, someone throws out, "You know, driving is a privilege, not a right!" And ... poof! ... I'm back in the confusion pot. Seems to me that, while it may look like English is becoming the universal language here on this planet, what we're actually experiencing is a return to Babel.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Irony Defined

Irony: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning. Usually it's humorous. Sometimes not. As in the story of Mozilla co-founder CEO Brendan Eich who resigned under fire because he was outed as having donated $1000 to the Prop 8 campaign in California. You remember, the campaign to keep marriage as marriage. Mozilla has apologized for Eich and GLAAD is satisfied, saying, "Mozilla’s strong statement in favor of equality today reflects where corporate America is: inclusive, safe, and welcoming to all."

And that, dear readers, is irony. It's irony when someone loses their job for taking a position and that is referred to as "inclusive" or "safe" or "welcoming". It's is irony when one side says of another that the damage done to their opponent's welfare is "inclusive, safe, and welcoming" at all. And "equality" extends only as far as GLAAD's nose (and the noses of those who agree with them), it seems, because they should be protected, but those who disagree should not ... and that's "equality". Irony. Apparently, excluding and removing someone who disagrees is "equality" and "inclusive, safe, and welcoming to all" ... as long as "all" means "those who agree with us" and not those who don't.

The Greater Good

The primary argument used against God is the argument of evil. Why would a good God allow evil to exist? Lots of people have answered; some well, some not so much. I've always maintained (against a pretty hefty current, I suspect) that God intends evil for His good purposes. No, He doesn't cause it, but He allows it to accomplish something He wants to accomplish that is better than the good that would be accomplished in eliminating evil.

We see this in Paul's reprimand of those who question God's Sovereignty.
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:22-23)?
It's clear then that He wills to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known. Or take Joseph's predicament back in Genesis. God could have saved Joseph from his brothers' schemes, but He didn't. Instead, He intended to use Joseph in his position in Egypt to save Jacob's family (Gen 50:20). Saving Joseph? Good. Saving Israel? Better.

I came across another one that was quite startling.
And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. "He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God'" (Matt 27:39-43).
Now think about that one. I mean, how many have said to you, "If God would do a miracle in front of me, I'd believe in Him"? How many have challenged, "Why doesn't God do something to prove His existence?" We have the same thing here. Imagine if He had. Imagine if, right there in front of the Romans and the Jews and the Pharisees and all, Jesus simply floated off the cross and sailed down to the ground, perfectly healed and intact. Who could have disbelieved Him then? Who could have questioned that the Father delighted in the Son then? Good stuff, right?

Sure, perhaps1, this would have been a triumph, a winning hand, an irrefutable proof. Perhaps many would have believed. All good stuff. But what else would have happened? You and I wouldn't be saved. No death, no resurrection, and no payment for sin. No "saved by grace through faith". No hope. No Christianity.

Jesus had an option of doing a good thing. He opted instead to go the painful route to accomplish something better. God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4), but has something better to achieve. God could end evil in any form, but He has something better in mind. He has the greater good in view. Are you willing to let Him accomplish that?
________
1 I say "perhaps" because of other events in Scripture. We have the children of Israel who miraculously cross the Red Sea and are complaining days later that God brought them out in the desert to kill them. We have Jesus's story about Lazarus and the Rich Man where He said, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31). And, of course, shortly before they hung Him on the cross, many witnessed an actual resurrection when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44). The response of many to an undeniable miracle was to seek to kill Jesus and Lazarus (John 11:53; 12:10). So we can't really be sure what the response would be.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Kristen Howerton wrote a piece entitled Christians: Is the Debate Over Gay Marriage What We Want to Be Known For? Springing off of the recent World Vision misstep as well as the Phil Robertson and Chick-fil-A kerfuffles, she wants to know, "Why can't we all just get along?"

She has three primary questions:
1. Why is same-sex marriage such a fraught issue?
2. How can we find unity in this division?
3. How is this affecting our LGBT brothers and sisters?
When I read the last question, I tried to think what she meant. Is she referring to "our LGBT brothers and sisters" in the sense of "fellow human beings" or in the sense of "brothers and sisters in Christ"? I read on. When she said, "I asked a gay Christian friend ...", I had my answer. She was thinking of fellow Christians, not fellow human beings.

Why, then, is same-sex marriage such an issue? Well, I'd like to answer that, Kristen. It's because the Bible isn't unclear about God's intentions for marriage. It is for the union of a man and a woman to become one flesh (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4-6). (I needed to put that Matthew reference because these are Jesus's words.) It is for the male-female "helpmeet" relationship (Gen 2:18). It is for the propagation of the species (Gen 1:28). And, beyond and above all that, it is a picture of the relationship of Christ to the Church (Eph 5:31-32) (which, by the way, includes a built-in requirement of male and female, husband and wife - Eph 5:22-33). It isn't small and it isn't trivial and it isn't merely a difference of opinion. It is at the heart of the question, "Is the Bible reliable?" It is at the core of the question, "Is the Holy Spirit able to accomplish what He intends to accomplish?"

Kristen conflates two issues here, and this just adds to the confusion. One issue is "marriage". What is it? What does it mean? What does God say about it? You see, the primary reason that "same-sex marriage" is an issue is not because homosexual behavior is a sin. It is because marriage means something, and "same-sex" is not part of it. The question, then, isn't the morality of same-sex relationships, but marriage. But she, like the majority of others, throws in homosexual behavior as the issue. This is a separate issue. It's not part of the "marriage" question.

Kristen asks, "How can we find unity in this division?", and I'll answer this as well. We can't. Why? Because one side is confusing the issues. I don't call "same-sex marriage" a sin; I call it nonsense. I call it an affront to God's definition of the term. I call it a violation of God's explanation of what marriage is about and what it stands for. If that was the issue, I suppose we could find unity by hashing it out. But that, no matter how fanciful, can't be done because no one on that side of the question sees that as the issue. They, like Howerton, are stuffing "same-sex marriage" together with "homosexual behavior" (and buying the notion that "homosexual" is a definition rather than a behavioral choice). So now I have my Bible, the Word of God, that says the homosexual behavior is a sin and that those who engage without repentance in that particular sin (along with a list of others) have no part in the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10). And voices out there like Howerton's would like us to just get along. How? Well, we need to put down our Bibles, put down our certainty, put down our principles, set aside Church history, set aside everything that the Bible says about this particular sin (see, for instance, Jude 1:7), and just say, "Oh, it's okay; everything is fine."

No, it's not. If there is such a thing as "LGBT brothers and sisters" -- unrepentant folks engaging in what the Bible deems sexual immorality -- and if there is such a thing as "same-sex marriage", then we don't merely need to "just get along". We need to move on. We need to give up the whole concept of a reliable Bible and a Holy Spirit that can accomplish what He intends. We need to abandon Christianity as a solid belief system because we have no firm footing on which to stand. The Bible is obscure, the Spirit is incapable, and what can we really know at all? Now we can all get along. Of course, it is a "get along" into a hopeless morass of relativism and subjectivism. Maybe the Kristen's of this world are happy with that. I can't go there. How do I hope to affect "our LGBT brothers and sisters"? I hope to call them to repentance, to bring them to Christ, to offer them a solution, because that is love. I hope to offer them the same thing I need, a relationship with Christ on His terms. We don't get to do that by standing on the ground He forbids. It's not unity or loving to suggest we do.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

What if?

Here's what we always hear. "What gives you the right to push your morality on others?" Or, "You're just a homophobic hater!" Or, "Why don't you just love instead of pointing out what you think is sin?" (with an implicit or explicit "You know, like Jesus did?"). The question that you never hear is "What if it's true?"

No one on that side is recognizing that "What gives you the right to push your morality on others?" is exactly aimed at pushing their morality on others. It seems strange to me that the hateful speech of "You're just a homophobic hater!" is never recognized by those protesting what they see as hate. No one protesting those who hold that homosexual behavior is a sin is asking whether or not homosexual behavior is a sin or not. That question is irrelevant, apparently.

I would suggest that the question is central ... and not trivial. Consider the facts. Historically, the entire history of the Church has been to hold this particular behavior as clearly biblical sin. The only point of deviation is the last 50 years. Scripturally, every biblical reference to homosexual behavior is negative, calling it sin or worse (like "abomination"). No biblical reference paints the behavior in any positive light. Worse, Paul's reference links it not to mere sin, but part of a string of assurances of exclusion from the kingdom.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).
Isn't it odd that no church figures are calling on Christians to embrace thievery, covetousness, or adultery? No one is standing there demanding that we love idolaters like Jesus did. There is no question on those. This one, however, is somehow different.

So, the question. What if it's true? What if the historical Church position is true? What if the biblical position is accurate? What if homosexual behavior really is a violation of God's commands? What if Paul was accurate in describing that behavior as an indication of being outside of the kingdom of God? What then? If it is true, I would think it would be obvious that no one of any character would want to embrace this behavior either in themselves or in those they love. If it is true, I would think that clear warnings would be the kindest thing to do.

I live in the desert. I can imagine a parallel process here in a hike with a friend in the desert. My friend tells me, "I don't believe in snakes." I see that he's about to step on a rattler. What should I do? In today's environment they would necessarily tell me, "What gives you the right to push your views about snakes on others? What are you ... some kind of hiking hater? Why don't you just embrace your friend's desire to walk where he wishes?" I should not consider, "But ... that could kill him."

What if it's true? If it's true that a commitment to homosexual behavior (and sexual immorality and idolatry and adultery and theft and greed ...) are all indications that you are outside the kingdom, I would be remiss -- unkind and uncaring -- in remaining quiet. I would be cruel to fail to call for repentance. I would be hateful to fail to point to the danger.

What if it's true? That's the question no one seems to want to answer. If it is true, then it isn't a matter of foisting morality; it's a matter of deep and caring concern. If it is not, then we have genuine reason to question Scripture, Church history, the abilities of the Holy Spirit to lead His own into the truth, and, consequently, Christianity itself. We really should ask the question.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Burning Babies for Warmth

Did you see this? The headline reads, "Aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals". How does that work? Well, they had a bunch of aborted babies (legally) and they were viewed as medical waste (legally) so they told the mothers that they would take "great care over foetal remains" and that they had been cremated and that was that. Of course, there is an outcry.
"This practice is totally unacceptable," said Dr Poulter.

Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS Medical Director, has written to all NHS trusts to tell them the practice must stop.

"This breaches our standard on respecting and involving people who use services ..."
Well, of course, I'm baffled (once again). The article refers to these fetuses (American spelling, not British) as "aborted babies", but I thought we were all clear that they aren't babies, but simply human tissue with no humanity about them and, thus, not protected ... unless, of course, the mother wants it and then it is endowed with "person" status. This article refers to these women who aborted their babies as "mothers", but "mother" requires "a woman who has a child" and all these women had were fetal tissue, so they can't, at least by virtue of the tissue removed and burned in this case, be called "mothers". And if we're just talking fetal tissue, why shouldn't they incinerate it along with any other human tissue removed in the hospital? If the doctors, for instance, removed a gangrenous leg, would they be required to undergo some special treatment, some "great care over the dead leg remains"? Is there something different about the fetal tissue?

And, of course, I think the answer is abundantly clear. I think that inside we all know that we're not talking about "fetal tissue", but babies. We're not talking about mere tissue masses removed in a medical procedure, but actual humans executed on the mother's orders and carried out by doctors. These are babies; these are mothers. This is outrageous. And not just because the hospitals are burning them.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ever Feel Bad for God?

Ever feel bad for God? I do. I feel bad for God when He is displayed as something less than He truly is.

Take, for instance, those who call themselves "Christians" and then engage in all kinds of obviously evil behavior. We have had to deal with this for centuries, from the Crusades to the Inquisitions to the Salem witch trials. Now it's the Westboro Baptist types or TV evangelists. Now it's false prophets telling everyone they should be healthy and wealthy or surrender any real Christianity in favor of "the social gospel". Now it's us, every time we sin. We bring dishonor to the Name of our Savior and portray to the world a false picture of God.

There are those who argue that baptism is required for salvation. Dig into this for a few minutes, and you will discover that they are speaking of a specific baptism. It must be "full immersion" and/or it must be "in the Name of Jesus" … or not. It must be by particular people, to particular people, done a particular way with particular words. And I weep for God. For centuries no one practiced "that particular way", and God failed to obtain the salvation of anyone. He tried, but just couldn't get anyone to listen. Sure, they responded to His call, confessed their sin, repented, and placed their faith in Christ, but they didn't know about "that particular way", so they ended up damned, and God failed again. I weep for Him.

There are those who argue that our task is evangelism and they like to use this kind of reasoning to urge you forward: "If you don't reach them for Christ, who will?" And I weep for God. He would like to reach people. He would like to save as many as is humanly possible. But we have severely limited Him by not reaching the people He intends us to reach. He has failed, again.

There are those that bemoan the tragedies of September 11 and the like. Atrocities of evil people as well as "acts of God" are all assigned to someone else. God didn't do it. He doesn't allow evil. He can't even be in the presence of sin. So He wanders about, trying to find someplace where He can be, and wrings His hands over all the evils, both moral and temporal, that befall His beloved world and His beloved children. If only He could do something about it, but, alas, evil reigns and He can only intervene at times to try to pull things out. I feel bad for God.

Now, try suggesting otherwise. Offer, for instance, that God is sovereign. That would mean that Man's "free will" is limited by God's sovereign will. Unacceptable. That would mean that God allowed, even ordained, the events of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, that poor woman's miscarriage, or whatever other tragedy you might imagine. Inconceivable. That would require that those who misrepresent Christianity are not Christians at all, but deceivers – wolves in Christian clothing. Not likely. And that would mean that, regardless of whether you're baptized or I go to the mission field, God is able to save every single person He intends to save. Unthinkable.

Poor God. He'd like to be sovereign, but His creation has managed to take over.

Or should I simply be feeling bad for those who suffer from such an anemic God?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Worthy is the Lamb



Obviously I don't know, but I just have a feeling that we'll be singing this in heaven at some point or another. Maybe not this tune (although I do think it is a suitable tune) but ...
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped (Rev 5:11-14)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

In a Strange Land

We live in a strange world. We live in a world that argues "born that way" requires "perfectly good" unless, of course, it's something of which they disapprove. If you're "born as a homosexual", it isn't merely acceptable, it is good, but if you're born with a deformity, it is something to be corrected and if you're born with Down's Syndrome, it's something to be terminated. We live in a world that argues that science ought to rule even though the scientific method is by definition a process of inquiry, measuring, correcting and further inquiry, not certainty. And even when they argue that science ought to rule, they ignore the irrationality of "There is no God because science proves it" or, on the other hand, the science of "A baby in the womb is scientifically a human being" and "There is no scientific proof that people are 'born that way'." We live in a world where people will defend both "It is not immoral to abort a pregnancy" and "It is murder to kill a child in the womb." When we argue, "If you change the definition of marriage to include same-sex, you open the door to include polygamy, polyamory, and more", they cry, "Foul! Slippery slope argument!", even though these are actually showing up in court cases, but they argue, "You can't allow a business owner the free exercise of religion because it might allow them to forbid child health care or inoculations" even though no one has suggested such a thing and it's not a slippery slope argument.

Consider this little tidbit. The ACLU -- the American Civil Liberties Union -- has filed a brief against the civil liberties of Hobby Lobby President Steve Green and associates to require them to provide contraceptives for their employees against their religious beliefs. And the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has also filed against Hobby Lobby because granting them their First Amendment rights is tantamount to an establishment of religion. This is "good thinking" these days. Defend civil liberties by removing them and argue that defending religious freedom establishes a State religion.

It's not only "them". It's us. Just as an example, take the latest "good for our side" movie, God's Not Dead. Christians are raving about it. The Christian Film Database raves, "An overwhelmingly, powerful, thought provoking film. We wish everyone in the world would go see this film." Check your Facebook for the reviews of other Christians who have seen it and loved it. Still, even The Hollywood Reporter notices "it sometimes stacks the deck shamelessly in defense of its credo." So why is it that no one seems to notice that it's a poorly structured set of arguments played against a poorly stereotyped set of opponents? In the movie, the main character is a Christian required to engage in a "contest" with a virulent atheist professor in order to get a passing grade. So he has to prove the existence of God in three lectures and convince the class. The necessary biblical fact that humans are not convinced in favor of God based on argument, but by the Spirit, is ignored and the disappointingly weak arguments are passed off as compelling. The movie argues from the Big Bang and from theistic evolution for the existence of God rather than for any biblical version of God. This character's arguments have been often and skillfully refuted by skeptics while many much more reasonable and sound arguments are available, but Christians are delighted that the film argued for God even if it simply set up a soft pitch to a skeptical world ready to knock it out of the park.

We live in a strange world indeed. We suffer from debased minds (Rom 1:28) and deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9), but we don't seem to notice. We are commanded to love God with all our minds (Matt 22:37) and to avoid being conformed to this world by renewing our minds (Rom 12:2). So this battle for the mind continues and we don't often seem to take this into account because, well, we live in a strange world.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Why It Matters

I know, we Christians talk a lot about homosexual sin and abortion. And Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason does a good job explaining one key aspect of why we talk so much about these things instead of just the Gospel. (It's short; you can spare 3 minutes.) But I recently ran across another reason why it matters.

In reviewing information about the Hobby Lobby case I read this on the Freedom From Religion Foundation:
FFRF notes that its original founders, Anne Nicol Gaylor and Annie Laurie Gaylor, formed FFRF "partly in response to unwarranted governmental and religious intrusion into a woman’s reproductive health decisions."
Do you see that? The original founders of an organization dedicated to promoting nontheism by legal force -- to removing Christianity from the public arena -- formed the organization "in response to unwarranted governmental and religious intrusion into a woman’s reproductive health decisions." Now, I'm sure you can all read that code, right? Because there is the claim that abortion is murder, these women formed an organization to block Christianity from the public.

Now, it is true that the world naturally hates Christ and His followers (John 15:18, 24). It is true that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God (Rom 8:7). But Jesus's message to sinners, along with "Follow Me", was "Go and sin no more" and if we don't get across the dangers of rebellion against the Creator along with the answer to that problem, then we're not doing our jobs right. If all they hear is moralism, we're not doing our jobs right. If we're preaching good works without the necessary repentance that drives them, we're not doing our jobs right. Perhaps we're not giving a good "reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). Perhaps we need to check our motives. Is it righteous indignation or love? We aren't going to argue them into the kingdom, but we should avoid pushing them out with legalism. Sin matters because we have the answer to that problem. We need to keep both in mind.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Parachurch Organizations

I'm sure you've all heard by now of World Vision USA's announcement that they're discarding Jesus's teaching on the definition of marriage (Matt 19:4-6) and tossing out Paul's warning that those who engage in homosexual practices have no part in the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10) in favor of ... "unity". And I'm pretty sure that you've been able to find plenty of commentary from good people making valid observations on the extent of such a failure. I don't need to add my two cents worth. And the fact that they reversed their decision is good. But I still have something to consider.

The term that catches my eye is connected to World Vision's self-defense that "We're an operational arm of the global church, we're not a theological arm of the church." We have a popular term for this. It is "parachurch". World Vision (and so many others) is not a church organization. IT is a parachurch organization. Just what is that?

A parachurch organization is a Christian organization (I know of no other religious group that has these organizations) that engages in social welfare and evangelism without restricting itself to a specific religious denomination. The word comes with the prefix, "para", meaning "beside". We see it in "paradox", "paramedic", and even "parallel" and "paragraph". A "paralegal" is someone who is not a lawyer, but works alongside lawyers doing some of their work for them. And there you have the concept. A parachurch organization is not a part of a church, but aims at working alongside churches to assist them in doing some of their work. All well and good. Until you dig a little deeper.

Dig a little deeper and you find that there is no such thing as a "parachurch organization" in the New Testament. You were either in the church or out. You were either responsible to the leadership of the church or you were not. Churches, prescribed by God, were designed for a specific purpose (build saints -- Matt 28:19-20; Eph 4:11-14) with a specific structure (elders and deacons -- 1 Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4) which keeps the "train on the tracks" so to speak. There are biblical controls, a biblical authority structure, and biblical checks and balances. "The work of the church" is commissioned and controlled by the biblical church. As the most obvious biblical example I can think of, look at Paul. Sent by God and the church, Paul took the Gospel to the Gentiles through Asia and Europe. We all think of him as a "super Christian", but Paul was never out from under the authority of the Apostles. That's the idea. That's the problem.

It would seem to me that the very nature of the "parachurch organization" -- "not restricted to any church" -- would stand in defiance of the biblical model. Independent of church oversight, they make ready targets for Satan to invade and overthrow. Independent of church authority, they are free to call themselves "Christian" while discarding Christianity, giving the world reasons to blaspheme God. Away from the watchful eye of elders and deacons called by God to their task and monitoring each other to do it, they easily fall into a more business-type model, lose sight of their original vision, and toss out the very structures, standards, and underpinnings that caused them to exist at all.

It is true that churches -- individual gatherings of believers -- are often too small to accomplish some very large tasks. Working together is a viable approach, where their efforts are still under the authority of biblical churches. Indeed, Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35), not "if you all share the same denomination." Churches working together for common tasks like evangelism and such is a good thing. I would suggest, however, that World Vision's initial defection from the truth of Scripture is good anecdotal evidence that the parachurch organization is a potentially dangerous and unbiblical thing for which Scripture has suitable substitutes. And can it be truly said that a parachurch organization is a parachurch organization if it discards the church and its teachings in order to "stand alongside" the church to accomplish her tasks? Perhaps we might want to revisit the idea of "parachurch".