Sunday, August 02, 2015

What's in a Greeting?

I don't know about you, but when I read the epistles, I tend to skip over the greetings. Oh, sure, I read them, but lightly. I mean, what can you find in a "From Paul to ..."? So you can imagine my surprise when I found something deep and serious in a greeting in one of Paul's epistles.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 1:1-7)
It is, in fact, a lengthy one, isn't it? "Paul". Yeah, yeah, we got that. "To all those in Rome." Okay, good. Can we move on? If you're ready to move on with that little intro, you missed something really big. Sure, sure, it is significant that Paul (you know, the "Super Apostle" who wrote a majority of the New Testament and such) classifies himself as a servant. A δοῦλος -- doulos -- is a bondslave. "I'm no slave!" I hear Christians complain. Well, perhaps, but Paul thought he was ... and he thought you are as well (Rom 6:16). But that's not the part I'm pointing to.

There is that interesting part about "obedience of faith". What's that? Aren't we free from obedience? Doesn't Pauline Dispensationalism say there's nothing we have to do? Haven't we settled that the Bible is not a book of rules? Apparently not. Apparently Paul thought "the obedience of faith" was critical. But that's not the part I'm pointing to.

Take a look at this. Paul says that Christ Jesus was "declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead." Now, we know that the Resurrection is important. It is a necessary component of the essential Gospel. "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." (1 Cor 15:3-4) Born, lived sinless, died for our sins, and rose again ... absolutely the bare minimum. Further, "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." (1 Cor 15:14) No Resurrection, no Christianity. Why? Because in rising again He was "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead." (1 Cor 15:20-21) His Resurrection, then, means we have a valid hope for resurrection. Important. Very important.

But in this greeting at the beginning of Paul's epistle to the saints in Rome, we see another critical importance of the Resurrection. Did you see it? According to Paul, the Resurrection of Christ declares Him to be "the Son of God in power." The Resurrection shows Him to be God, the Son. It is proof of deity. Notice that it didn't make Him the Son of God; it declared Him to be. He existed at the beginning (John 1:1-3) and always was God. But this event, His laying down of His life and taking it up again (John 10:17-18), was unique and uniquely God. It declares Him to be God.

There are those who deny the Resurrection. "Oh," they say, "it wasn't actual. Just spiritual, you know. Because everyone knows that no one actually comes back from the dead." Some go so far as to deny it altogether. "Never happened. Just a myth to make a point." (I can point to a pastor in good standing with his denomination who holds this.) To these I say, "You go with that ... but not as a Christian." Absolutely fundamental to Christianity itself is this particular component, the Resurrection of Christ. It is a key part of the Gospel. It is our reason to hope for our own resurrection, our own life after death. And it declares Jesus to be uniquely God Incarnate.

Something to consider on this Sunday, the Lord's Day, when we gather to specifically remember His Resurrection.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

A Short Parable

I like science fiction. I particularly like Isaac Asimov's idea about science fiction. He held that the genre itself isn't of particular value, but it can be quite useful when used to get across an idea regarding the human condition, thinking, etc. Here's just such an attempt.

********************

Dr. Gimble was the sociologist officer aboard the starship. His job was to examine the social structures of the cultures the ship would discover on its trek to unexplored worlds. So when they actually discovered an alien culture on a planet in another solar system, Dr. Gimble was eager to go to work. Employing the powerful translation devices at hand, he set out to talk with the leaders of this alien world to discover how their society worked.

As it turned out, these beings were friendly and glad to share information. Dr. Gimble spent days discussing every topic he could imagine. Sex, religion, family, political structures, values, just about anything. Eventually he got around to their penal system. How did they enforce laws?

"Oh, we have a carefully defined justice system," they told him. "All laws include specific penalties for violation."

"What kinds of penalties?" he asked.

"We believe in a justice system, so the penalties match the violation. We have everything from fines to public service to incarceration ... in extreme cases for life."

"So, incarceration is the highest penalty?"

"Well, no, there is one higher. We have invented 'The Machine'."

The way they said it sounded ominous. "What is The Machine?"

"The Machine took us decades to devise and perfect. It is a device for inflicting continuous pain. A person placed in The Machine will be sustained for the duration of the experience; The Machine provides for all requirements of sustenance and everything. But for the duration of the experience The Machine also produces various degrees of constant torment, always changing so as not to allow the person to become accustomed to it, always varying in intensity and type so as to make the experience one of sheer and constant pain. The Machine can do this uninterrupted for up to a year."

"My, that sounds horrible!" Dr. Gimble observed. "What type of crime would earn that penalty?"

"What type of crime? Oh, no crime. We know of no violation that deserves that penalty. It might be possible that a violator might choose it, but it is not something we ever require."

"Wait ... a violator might choose it?"

"Sure. We allow free will."

"And you spent all that time and effort to create a system to provide a penalty for a crime that doesn't exist?"

"Sure, why not? Just shows how kind we are, right?"

********************

There are those who argue that Hell does not exist. Never did. Everyone goes to heaven. It was all a misunderstanding brought about by the Roman Catholic Church. Relax. We've figured it out now.

There are those who argue that Hell never existed. Not everyone goes to heaven. Some do, and the rest just cease to exist.

There are those who argue that Hell does exist. It is the eternal torment set aside for sinners. We have this good news called "Salvation" where the penalty for sin was taken by One who deserved no penalty on our behalf and if you trust in Him, you can be saved from the justly deserved wrath of God against sin.

There are those who believe what these aliens believe. Hell exists. Oh, it's not actually for anyone. It would be unjust of God to actually send anyone there because that penalty exceeds any crime. But if they want it, God won't prevent them from going.

In only one of these possible viewpoints do we find the biblical correspondence of text to the penalty for sin, of Scripture to the purpose of Christ's death, of God's Word as to the meaning of salvation. Anything else makes God out to be pretty nice, just not very wise or just. After all, He sent His Son to die for no real reason at all. And the last one? God is so unjust as to actually send people to Hell because they want to go even if it violates justice. Strange people, these aliens.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Sentiment on Atonement

Here are some questions that might be asked when considering the Atonement. Why did Jesus come? What was the point of the crucifixion? In what sense are we "saved by grace" and what are we saved from? Oh, and a really good question ... who is saved? Now, the Bible answers these kinds of questions, but what do we feel would be right? What noble sentiments would we expect?

"It's not about some blood sacrifice to magically save us from an impotent god who is powerlessly unable to forgive on his own." Good, good. Very noble. "A just God would not punish people for eternity for a white lie or even 'a lifetime of mistakes'." Very warm indeed. "A God who demands perfection is not a loving and just God." Popular feeling. "Jesus came teaching a way of Grace, not of rule following, not of blood sacrifices that the pagans relied upon, or to appease some angry deity." That just feels right. "A God who cannot forgive as we can forgive -- without some payment or payback or something -- is not a God at all." Noble sentiments, all. Except that they are in direct contradiction to what the Bible has to say.

Consider what the Bible says about blood.
Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Rom 5:9)

Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Heb 9:22)

Brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus. (Heb 10:19)

Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. (Heb 13:12)
That seems to say ("seems" as in "states absolutely clearly and irrefutably") that Christ's blood was essential to our salvation.

Consider what the Bible has to say about God's wrath.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. (Rom 1:18)

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Eph 5:6)

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience. (Col 3:5-6)
God's wrath isn't a guess. It isn't the product of narrow minds, tricked (like all of historic Christian orthodoxy) into some messed up view of God. It is plainly (and repeatedly) stated in Scripture. Indeed, we have the clear statement that God's will is to make His power and wrath known on "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Rom 9:22).

In Romans Paul writes a comprehensive explanation of the problem (Rom 1:18-3:18). It's sin (Rom 1:18)1. It's everywhere (Rom 3:23). It's fatal (Rom 6:23). Then he steps up to the good news (Rom 3:19-26). He speaks of our justification as a gift by God's grace "through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith." That word, "propitiation", isn't a friendly word. It refers to an angry God who requires appeasement. John says, "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 2:2) Clearly sin requires propitiation, the appeasement of an angry deity. This, the Bible says, was accomplished by Christ. How? "In His blood." Now, am I saying that God was some bloodthirsty deity requiring some messy sacrifice? No. Consider it from this direction. We speak of the "precious blood of Christ." How precious? Just how much blood was required? If Jesus had pricked His finger on a thorn, would that have been a sufficient quantity? No, of course not. The question isn't blood. The point is in the premise, "The life of the flesh is in the blood ... for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement." (Lev 17:11) Not blood, but life. Since "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23), the payment required is death. So Christ didn't die as an example or to teach us something or to show humility. "Christ died for our sins." (1 Cor 15:3)

The Bible says that all of us have sinned. The Bible says that sin earns us death. The Bible clearly claims that God's justice demands satisfaction. And the Bible is clear that Christ died for our sins, providing the satisfaction of divine justice, so that "He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:26)2 Now, noble sentiments might lead you to believe otherwise. But your noble sentiments would be wrong, a lie. And another thing the Bible is clear on is who the father of lies is. You can stick with your "warm feelings", your "improved understanding", your "higher version" and stand in direct opposition to all of Scripture as well as all of historic orthodox Christianity on this, or you can consider that we all suffer from wicked and deceitful hearts and if your feelings contradict God's Word, it is Man who is the liar, not God (Rom 3:4). So, go ahead. Substitute your feelings for God's stated truth. We'll let God sort that out.
________
1 Note the infraction that incurs God's wrath. Suppression of truth. Not some "big sin". Not serial rape or mass murder or some such thing. This warrants wrath from God.

2 In this phrase, Paul makes Christ's death on our behalf a matter of justice satisfied, making God both just and justifier. If it wasn't about justice, the phrase is meaningless.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

That's Hard!

"If it was easy, everyone would be doing it." Ever hear that? It is meant to encourage you to do the hard thing. I mean to encourage you to do the hard thing.

What hard thing? Things like following Christ. Like doing the right thing. That kind of thing.

I talked to a pastor once about an idea "I came up with". "How about if your church went about making disciples? You know, where the congregation would learn to walk alongside others, teaching them and encouraging them and exhorting them to obey Christ. That kind of thing?" "Oh," he told me (he actually told me), "that's too much work." I would like to encourage you to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt 28:19-20) "That's hard!" Yes ... yes it is. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

The Bible is thick with exhortations against idolatry. Of course, most of it is in regards to those physical idols we think of carved out of stone or wood representing some false god or something. But it's anything at all that substitutes for God. And it is part of our everyday experience. Our idols today are pop singers or power or money or fame or "stuff" or popularity or appreciation or technology or ... it gets to be a long list that even we Christians find acceptable. Here, a little example. Given a choice between preaching the gospel in your neighborhood or keeping peace in your home (you know, "Honey, if you go out there and do that, they'll make our lives uncomfortable here."), which would you choose? If you opt for peace in the home over doing what God commands, you've just identified your idol. At least, one of them. "Little children," John writes, "keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21) "That's hard!" Yes ... yes it is. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Perhaps the most common sin addressed in Scripture, perhaps after this whole idolatry thing, is the sin of sexual immorality. It is everywhere in Scripture. The famed claim that homosexual behavior is an abomination to God (Lev 18:22) is found in a whole pile of commands against all manner of sexual immorality including incest, adultery, and bestiality (Lev 18:6-23). In the letters of Jesus addressed to the seven churches at the end, Thyatira is accused of tolerating a prophetess who is, among other things, "seducing My servants to practice sexual immorality." (Rev 2:20) It is everywhere. It is on the short list of the obvious things that prevents someone from entering the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10) (and on just about every other list of evils people do in Scripture). Fast forward to our time where sexual immorality is considered the norm, even recommended. Unmarried couples living together outside of marriage attend church without batting an eye. Many have bought the whole "It's better to try it out before marrying so you know if it's right" concept. And, of course, there's the whole homosexual sexual immorality thing going on where those who classify themselves as Christians applaud "loving, committed" sexually immoral relationships. Beyond that, it is impossible to turn on the television, drive down the street, or walk through a mall without being bombarded by sexual immorality in the presentations and advertisements of the world around us. Still, we are commanded, "Flee from sexual immorality." (1 Cor 6:18) Paul writes, "Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy." (Rom 13:13) "Really, Paul? I mean, that's most of what our world is about. Don't do that? That's hard!" Yes ... yes it is. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

We are exhorted to do things that are hard to do. If they were easy, everyone would be doing them. They're even classified by many as foolish. But we're commanded to "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil 2:12) Yes, it's hard. That's why it's good to remember that "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) It's hard, but the alternative is worse. And if God is at work in you, the will and ability are provided by Him. That's why "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sentiment on Sovereignty

I wrote before on the tyranny of the Noble Sentiment. I think the concept is so big that I should take some time (over time) to address it in its multiple applications because I'm pretty sure we suffer from wicked and deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9) and will often miss this idea and its connected truth because we're suffering from the tyranny of the Noble Sentiment.

Consider the subject of God's Sovereignty. I get a lot of flak from genuine Christians on that topic. "God doesn't do that" is very common in the discussion. Because "God doesn't do that" is a truly noble sentiment ... noble, but wrong when it violates what God says He does. Like the example I already used. So we know which is the noble sentiment, but which is true -- "God doesn't cause blindness" or "Who makes [men] mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?"? Like "God doesn't cause unpleasant things to happen" over against, "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isa 45:7) Or "God doesn't ordain evil" as opposed to "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20). (Note, if you think it merely means God used it for good, look who Scripture says sent Joseph to Egypt in the first place - Psa 105:17.) Like "God doesn't kill anyone" on one hand and "The LORD kills and brings to life" (1 Sam 12:6) on the other. "Well, God certainly doesn't intervene in Man's free will" is a warm and friendly sentiment, but the Bible says, "The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps." (Prov 16:9) "God has no connection to wickedness" seems a given except that we find clearly stated in Scripture, "The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil." (Prov 16:4) And that's all on just one topic.

The question remains. Will you be conformed to the world, driven by passions and desires, or will you be transformed by the renewing of your mind? (You know I didn't make anything up in that question, right?) I can talk until I'm blue in the face, but it's really up to you to look at what God says over against what feels right and see if you are lining up the two properly. Today's it's a question of God's Sovereignty. Tomorrow, a different reality obliterated by noble sentiment. Keep your eyes open for it. I'm sure you and I both carry these things around without knowing it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Indoctrination

Have you ever noticed, in the evolution of the language, how some words start out as innocuous, even good, but end up negative? Take, for instance, "puritan". Originally it was a term applied to a group of 16th century Protestants who were known for simplified doctrine and worship and strict religious discipline. They were so called for their purity of doctrine and living. Now, of course, it refers to rigid people with upright morals and no joy. An insult. Or consider "Fundamentalism". That once meant merely those who held to the fundamentals of the faith. In a world where Christendom was straying off into all sorts of ideas -- many of which could no longer be called "Christian" -- the Fundamentalists called for a return to straightforward biblical Christianity. Not so bad, is it? Of course, today it is a term of contempt intended to suggest narrow-minded and perhaps even dangerous teaching. "Islamic Fundamentalists", for instance, is the term applied to those who call themselves "Muslims" and preach the killing of non-believers. Dangerous, see? And how is that any different from "Christian Fundamentalists"? It's a bad thing.

A couple of months ago I was talking to a mother whose high schooler was going to a Christian school. The student was talking about his concern that the school was indoctrinating them into the school's beliefs. And clearly that was a bad thing.

The dictionary says "indoctrinate" means "to instruct in a doctrine, principle, ideology, etc.", "to teach or inculcate", or "to imbue with learning." Yeah, that's pretty evil stuff. Of course, it has shifted since then. Now it includes the sense of "partisan or biased belief" and includes an implied sense of believing uncritically. Earlier synonyms for "indoctrinate" might have been "proselytize" or "persuade", but now it's more at "brainwash" and "propagandize". In its current use, at its most mild, it means to inculcate someone into a specific point of view. (Oh, and "inculcate" means to implant ideas by repetitious, persistent, and earnest teaching.) And that, dear readers, is evil.

Part of the problem with "indoctrination", I suppose, is with the root word, "doctrine". Even some Christians don't like the term. It sounds too ... narrow. It means "a set of beliefs held by a group", but to many people that's a bad thing. It is wrong to have a single "set of beliefs". At least, that's what their doctrine holds. That it would offend Christians confuses me. Paul said that the law was good for preventing people (including "men who practice homosexuality") from doing that which is "contrary to sound doctrine." (1 Tim 1:8-11) He warned against those who teach "a different doctrine" (1 Tim 6:3-5; see also 1 Tim 1:3). He told Titus that church leaders must "hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it." (Titus 1:9) Oh, yes, the Bible is in favor of doctrine.

So what about me? I'm not afraid to take an unpopular position. I'm in favor of "Puritan" beliefs. Anyone who opts for a biblical Christianity and strives for holy living is wise in my view. I'm in favor of fundamentalism. A theology based on the fundamentals of the Word of God and historical orthodox Christianity is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. And what about "indoctrination"? Well, of course, I'm all for "teaching them to observe" all that Christ commands. Which, of course, is "indoctrination." I'm glad to instruct in doctrine, to teach, to imbue learning. To in-doctrinate someone in the doctrines of the faith seems not only a good thing, but a biblical one (2 Tim 2:2). But, then, this is all the same problem. Words change. And I can't seem to keep up. Someday I hope someone will tell me the new terminology I can use to express "the lifelong union of a man and a woman for the purpose of mutual support and for procreation" and "biblical Christianity and holy living" and "learning and embracing right doctrine." Until then, I'll still be a happily married puritanical fundamentalist bent on indoctrinating others. All without any of the negative connotations. Someone appears to have stolen the terms I've been using. Or maybe it's just that many, including a large number of people who call themselves Christians, think that those are bad things. Of course, they do so in opposition to Scripture, but try to get them to see that.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Tyranny of the Noble Sentiment

I was talking with a friend of mine and he brought up this idea he had. He called it "the tyranny of the noble sentiment." An interesting idea. Here, let me give you a simple, biblical example. Jesus was with His disciples at the end telling them He was going to die. Peter objected. "Lord, I am ready to go with You both to prison and to death!" (Luke 22:33) You know the story. Jesus told him not only would he fail to carry through on that, but he would deny he even knew Jesus three times before the next morning. That's a noble sentiment. "I am ready to go both to prison and to death!" The truth was something else.

The more I thought about it the more I started to think that this "noble sentiment" was a serious tyrant in our lives. We seem to be all wrapped up in it a good part of the time. It's not evil sentiments as much as these noble ones. Here, try this one out. I told you about the teacher who asked the Sunday school class about that John 9 passage with the man who was born blind. The teacher was quite sure that God didn't do that. It was a product of sin in the world, of genetics, that sort of thing. God didn't do it; He just used it. Lay that over against what God said to Moses. "Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?" (Exo 4:11) You see? The noble sentiment. "God doesn't make people blind." Except that God says He does.

Think about it. It's really huge. Terms like "committed, loving, same-sex relationships" and "a woman's right to her own medical decisions" and "equal treatment under the law" are all noble sentiments. But when they're in violation of God's Word they become "ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom 1:18). "God is too kind and too loving to demand a sacrifice for sin" is a noble sentiment, but it stands in stark contrast with "the redemption which is in Christ Jesus whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith." (Rom 3:24-25) Even something as pure as "I love my wife", certainly a noble sentiment, becomes idolatry and sin when it causes you to choose to please your wife rather than obey God. That is, I'm not talking about explicitly evil people harboring evil notions. These are noble sentiments. They become tyrannical when they serve to overturn God's Word, views, authority, or rights.

The noble sentiment is a tyrant, commanding the things we like versus the things God says. It plays on how we feel as opposed to reality (read "truth"). And that's why it is so difficult for us -- everyone -- to arrive at the truth. We are determining truth by the tyrant Sentiment. You clear-headed people who complain "A guy is not a girl just because he feels like he is" should see in the same way that nothing is true just because we feel like it is. The trick for the Christian is to begin the lifelong process of aligning sentiment with truth. That's something we all need to work on.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Spiritual Economics

Paul's most famous lesson on economics is found in his epistle to the church at Philippi.
Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith -- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:7-11)
Okay, not financial economics. But clearly Paul is speaking in "debit and credit" terminology.

So, what was in Paul's "credit" column? In the first part of this chapter he details what a wonderful guy he was (Phil 3:3-5). "I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh," he says and then gives his pedigree as an observant Jew. It is this quite impressive list, however, that he classifies originally as "gain" ("Whatever gain I had") and now as "loss".

So now that he's put all that wonderful stuff in the "debit" column, what "gain" is Paul seeking? Well, let's see. "Not having a righteousness of my own," "share His sufferings," "becoming like Him in His death" -- okay, now wait! These are things that Paul classifies as gain? Indeed! From Paul's perspective "the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" far outweighs anything else we might imagine. It even makes those "negative" things positives.

This idea isn't just Paul's. Remember? Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for My sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life." (Mark 10:29-30) There it is again, that putting of items normally perceived as "gain" ("houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands") in the loss column and "loss" ("persecutions") in the gain column. And it's a good thing!

It is, in fact, the standard Christian life. The command is "Give up all of yourself." It is said in a variety of ways. "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." (Matt 16:24) It is "crucified with Christ." (Gal 2:20) We are to kill the passions and desires of the flesh (Gal 5:24). "We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." (Rom 6:6) We are called to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God." (Rom 12:1) These -- self, life, passions, desires, bodies -- are "loss" items. In return, we are promised eternal life, treasures and rewards in heaven, a relationship with God, forgiveness of sin, atonement, the Holy Spirit, "a hundredfold" what we lose.

So I have some questions. If obedience is "loss" in the sense of "loss of freedom" and "loss of doing things I like", is it also "gain"? Since we are called to die to self, to take up our cross, to surrender all, are the promises worth the "loss"? In view of what we cost Him, is it too much to ask? In view of what He's promised, does it make any sense to refuse? From a purely "gain and loss" economics perspective, it would seem to me that the only reasonable and wise thing to do would be to consider what we think of as "gain" in this life as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ. To align ourselves with His death and suffering and persecution in view of the value of knowing Him seems the only logical way to go. So why do we still hesitate?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"I Feel" Trumps Reality

They told me that "gay" and "black" are the same. That is, sexual orientation and race are similar things that you don't choose and that you're born with and that you can't change. That's why it kept coming up in the whole "gay mirage" argument. "You wouldn't oppose interracial marriage. Why oppose same-gender marriage?" They told me that what you are (gay, straight, white, asian, etc.) is not a choice and is who you are. They told me that who you are (gender, sexual orientation, etc.) is not determined by your physical nature, but how you feel. Thus, a guy who wins medals in male Olympic sports can tell us he feels like a woman and it trumps DNA, biology, science, chromosomes, bone structure ... all of that. In fact, a guy who does that gets awards for bravery. So why is it, given all of this, that a white woman who claims to be black is not allowed to be black? Why is it that she loses her job and friends? She says, "If people feel misled or deceived, then sorry that they feel that way, but I believe that's more due to their definition and construct of race in their own minds than it is to my integrity or honesty, because I wouldn't say I'm African-American, but I would say I'm black, and there's a difference in those terms." Why aren't the tolerant and inclusive folk rallying around this poor black woman stuck in a white body? Why isn't she queued up for the next "hero" award from the NAACP? Come on! Don't tell me there's some other reality here that's preventing this! Or does someone else get to choose when feelings trump reality?

Friday, July 24, 2015

On the Losing Side

I've heard it too many times from too many sources. Those who side with God's Word, with historic orthodoxy and all that kind of thing are "on the losing side." I hear it from opponents of any of that, of course. What should I expect? But I hear it from those in favor of all that. "We find ourselves on the losing side." The losing side of what?

"Well," of course they'll tell me, "of history" or "of the court battles" or "of society." Because, as is abundantly clear, the courts and society are moving away from God's Word, orthodox Christianity, and biblical values and morality. I mean, it doesn't take a conservative to see that.

And, of course, when the liberals say this, they exult in it. The Christians (the "losing side") are unhappy about it, but those most closely aligned with society are happy to see that God's Word is on the decline and "better", "more modern" views are taking hold.

Still, while it may seem like I have a clear grasp on all this terminology and perspective of "the losing side" concept, I'm baffled. It's true that people are exiting the mainline churches in large numbers and even the more conservative churches in smaller numbers. That sounds like "losing". And it's true that the legislative and judiciary branches are moving away from Christian values. That sounds like "losing", too. But I have to ask, what was the aim?

Is the aim of the Bible, of Christianity, of God to push societies into more Christian perspectives? I mean, sure, I concur that it would be good for a society to align itself more closely with biblical values, but is that the aim? If not, then the fact that our society is moving away from Christian perspectives reflects no loss to the Christian aims.

What is the purpose of Christianity? Well, first and foremost it is (like everything) for the glory of God (e.g., 1 Cor 10:31). Jesus said He came "that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) We can look at the fruit of the Spirit to figure out what God's plan is for His people. Over against the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21), God's plan for people is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Gal 5:22-23) Looking ... looking ... nope, no "win the culture to God's perspective." No "make sure the courts rule in your favor." Not even a "be sure your rights are vigorously defended." Instead we read things like "be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29) and "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." (Rom 12:1) We are not called to political action and moral control; we are called to "be holy" (1 Peter 1:14-16).

Look, they took our Savior and arrested Him and tried Him and crucified Him. And He did nothing to stop it. Was He "on the losing side"?

You see, we aren't called to control the branches of the government. We aren't called to transform our culture. We aren't called to bring about heaven on earth. We are commanded to be holy, to glorify God, to be like Christ (you know, "Christian"). These are not things that our society or government can alter. No, the only way we can be on the losing side is if we're choosing to ignore the purpose of the Christian life. Maybe then they have a point. But only if you let them. Because the only thing preventing you from being on the winning side is if you choose not to pursue being a Christian.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Who Killed Christ?

I know. Wrong time of year. Should be doing this around Easter or something, right? Well, sorry. I'm reading John's Gospel and came across this text, so I'm sharing it with you.

In John 18-19 we have John's version of Jesus's arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. In these chapters we find some interesting perspectives on who killed Christ. For centuries over various Christian-influenced cultures there has been anti-Semitism based on the notion that the Jews killed Jesus. What does the Bible say? Well, Jesus told Pilate, "He who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." (John 19:11) So there you have it. The Jews killed Jesus. Or, a least, they had "the greater sin."

That, of course, is a severely narrow perspective (on the question of who killed Jesus). It is abundantly clear that Roman soldiers crucified Jesus (John 19:23). If we're going to be rational and hate whoever killed Christ, it would have to be the Romans. Okay, well, the ancient Romans. Yeah, that's a little silly. But the Bible is clear that the Romans killed Christ.

But even that is a severely narrow perspective. After all, doesn't Paul make it abundantly clear "Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8)? I mean, He said Himself that He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). So, really, who killed Jesus? Jesus said, "I lay down My life for the sheep." (John 10:15) Who really killed Jesus? We did. He died for us because we needed it.

Oh, now, hold on. I just noticed something. Doesn't Jesus say, "I lay down My life"? It could be said, then, that Jesus killed Jesus. And we're not done there. In that verse I butchered at the beginning, John 19:11, Jesus told Pilate, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above." Oh, now, see? Now it looks like God killed Jesus. Or, at least, authorized it.

At the end of the day, hating Jews because the Jews/Romans/Pilate/Jesus/God/we killed Jesus is quite ludicrous. Equally ludicrous is the amazing self-love we carry around in the face of the fact that our sin was what precipitated God's sending His Son to die on our behalf. Sin was expensive. And those of us blessed by salvation by grace through faith in Christ have many reasons to rejoice in His sacrifice.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

That's Not Fair!

The other day I was talking to a guy about what it means to be a Christian. You know, the standard difficulties. "It means being good." "I mean, why would God allow bad things to happen?" "How is it fair for God to send people to hell who never heard about Jesus?" The regular mistakes and objections.

The difficultly (for me) is that there are answers. The problem is that they are not generally emotionally satisfying. I mean, which feels better? "I worked hard and got into heaven" or "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph 2:8-9)? Well, of course it feels better to think you've made it yourself. Or how satisfying is it to hear "God allows pain and suffering and evil so that His glory will be fully displayed"? Because, after all, it's all about us and what's with this megalomaniac God of yours?

I was particularly struck by this "It's not fair!" complaint. As if God is obligated to save people. As if there is some reason that God would need to save anyone. As if anyone at all goes to hell because they didn't trust Christ1. Fair? You want fair? Fair would be eternal damnation for every single one of us. Fair would be receiving what we have each and every one of us earned -- a one way ticket to hell. Don't talk to me about fair. I do not want fair. I want grace -- receiving favor I don't deserve. I want mercy -- not receiving the punishment I so greatly deserve. Fair? Don't give me fair.

But, again, that's not an emotionally satisfying answer. It doesn't make the skeptic feel better. And in the Age of Empathy in which we live, how we feel defines reality (most of the time). So truth is out, fair is defined by however we choose, and God is still in hot water. I don't know how He's going to work His way out of this mess He's in. I don't know how because I can't see any of it myself.
________
1 Note: No one goes to hell because they didn't trust Christ. They earn eternal death. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). Like a person who is bitten by a snake but doesn't take the anti-venom. They don't die from failing to take the anti-venom. They die from the snakebite.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Different Kind of Christian

Anyone who has read very much of my stuff knows that words are important to me. Not just the recent redefinition of "marriage". All kinds of words. Are we saying what we mean and do our words mean what we intend to express? Over and over it seems that words, in their natural shift, are moving so fast that it's becoming increasingly difficult to actually express what we mean to say. So "love" now means mostly sex and perhaps warm affection. A lot of words have been hijacked from their original meaning to an almost exclusively sexual connotation. But beyond that we can't seem to find consensus of meaning. A popular complaint today is "partisan politics" which appears to be a purely Republican issue because they abide by the principles of the Republican party (because apparently when Democrats abide by the principles of their party it isn't "partisan politics"). The other day a reporter asked the president if he was "content" with the plight of four Americans held in Iran since he hadn't acted on their release and he responded angrily that he wasn't "celebrating" their condition. See? I don't see "content" and "celebrating" as synonyms. So the language just gets tougher and tougher. As a wise person once told me, "Communication is tedious at best."

One word that I fear has nearly lost all its generally-understood meaning is "Christian". What does that even mean anymore? First coined in Antioch in Acts 11:26, it was intended to mean "a follower of Jesus Christ". Now? Not so much. There are social Christians, political Christians, religious Christians, spiritual Christians, even geographical Christians. Social Christians are the ones concerned about "social justice" -- the caring for the poor and needy which is a good thing, but when they do it in contradiction to the words of Jesus, it shouldn't be called "Christian". But they do. Geographical Christians are found most obviously in lands where other religions rule. So we read about conflicts in Nigeria, for instance, where the "Muslim north and Christian south" collide. Often political Christians reside in these kinds of places, but they're here in America as well. If you hold a conservative view on politics, you're classified as a "right-wing Christian" regardless of any connection to Christ.

Bob Burnett over at the Huffington Post wrote about the end of the "culture wars" and how "conservative Christians are losing the culture war." Burnett disagrees with the idea, claiming that such people "aren't Christians". Christians, you see, should give up worldly possessions, "nurture stable families" (meaning "same-sex marriages"), and "launch a new war on poverty." That is "Christian".

Is it any wonder that we're having difficulty communicating these days? I can't figure out the connection of "Christian" to "culture wars". To hear Christians suggest "We're losing the culture war" makes no sense to me. What does "Christian" have to do with "the culture"? It's about Christ. It's about the Gospel. It's about a worldview and a way of life. And it is specifically not about culture (John 17:16; John 15:19; 1 John 2:15-17; 1 John 3:13; 1 John 4:4 ... for starters). We aren't here to make this world a better place. We're here to make disciples. Jesus didn't come to make this world a better place; He came to seek and to save the lost. Redeeming the culture is an interesting idea, but it isn't for the purpose of making the culture better.

"So what about you, Stan? You're always complaining about abortion and homosexual sin and marriage. Aren't you fighting a culture war?" I can see how it would look that way. I can see how people would think I'm concerned about America, about society as a society, that I'm trying to make our world what I would consider a better place. I can see that ... but in my case it isn't the case. You see, I believe that mankind, at its core, is sinful. I can't make that better. The problem in this country isn't laws or politics or even the judiciary. It's sin. People need Christ. The reason, then, that I engage in these "culture wars" is not to improve the culture, but to try to keep the problem in view, the problem for which Christians ("followers of Christ") have the answer. If people in general and, God forbid, more specifically those I care most about come to believe that what God says is right or wrong is not, then on what grounds can I tell them, "You need Jesus"? For what? They're doing fine. They're fornicating and committing adultery and stealing and lying and "it's all okay because we've all voted on it and we all agree." Paul warned "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor 6:9-10) We're moving ever toward an answer of "No" to his question. Fornicators, idolaters, homosexuals, thieves, and swindlers are all okay because we've said so. "So," they'll say, "tell me again. Why do I need Jesus?"

In this sense, it is wrong that Christians are losing the culture wars. That's because Christians aren't fighting the culture wars. Christians, defined as "a follower of Christ", have other concerns. Primarily of following Christ and sharing the Gospel, making disciples, teaching them to observe all that is commanded, that kind of thing. And since the primary motive force of that engagement is not the Christian, but the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11), we can't actually lose that battle. God always accomplishes what He intends. And the saving of American culture is not on that list. Perhaps that makes me a different kind of Christian. So be it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Radical Men

I recently wrote about "radical Christianity" as the Christianity that is practiced obediently. Seems odd, of course, since "radical" is usually thought of as "out there" while "obedient Christian" should be thought of as "normal", but here we are. "Normal" today often means disobedient, self-serving Christianity. Thus, I called for "radical Christianity" -- Christians who are actually obedient to God (as described in His Word). And I'm there again. This time I'm calling for radical men, men who are the men God calls us to be.

What would I classify as the first characteristic of the biblical perspective on what men should be? In a word, "responsible." The basic principle is this: "I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God." (1 Cor 11:3)

Husbands are responsible.

In 1 Peter we read the command to wives to submit to their husbands "even if some do not obey the word" (1 Peter 3:1). It's easy for guys to point to that, but the same would hold true for husbands who are required to love and be responsible for their wives "even if some do not obey the word." Hosea illustrates this when God commanded him to "Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom" (Hos 1:2). I mean, surely this arrangement was suitable for divorce. But God didn't see it that way and Hosea didn't see it that way. (And, indeed, isn't this God's approach? See Rom 9:25.)

So what are the biblical responsibilities of the husband? Well, we're clear that he is the head of the wife (1 Cor 11:3). These days, with the overwhelming assault of radicalized feminism on our society, that's not comfortable or even acceptable, but it is commanded. Husbands, if you are not acting as the primary authority in your marriage as you are commanded to be, there is a word for it -- "sin."

Of course, that is not the final point. Husbands are explicitly commanded to "love your wives" and not merely as the world does, but "as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). "As their own bodies" (Eph 5:28). "As himself" (Eph 5:31). I mean, serious love, not just "warm affection". (It is of critical importance at this point that you go examine 1 Cor 13:4-8 for a description of just what that love looks like.)

More. Husbands are expected to "cleanse her by the washing of water with the word" (Eph 5:26). Are you? We are expected to "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). Is that your approach? Paul told Timothy that a husband that fails to provide for his family "is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim 5:8). Do you provide for your family?

We're kind of stuck these days. We want to go along to get along and many (most?) women have bought the line that says, "We are empowered and independent and we won't submit to any man!" So we may feel forced outside of the realm of possibility of being the responsible husband we are commanded to be. Or we might go the other way, stepping up to be a tyrant, lording it over them, as if that qualifies as "love", "understanding", or "showing honor". Many would like to just give up and coast. Some are even afraid of losing their wives if they do what God says. Which is why I started with the example of Hosea. Husbands are responsible, and it doesn't matter if your wife is on board with that. Examine your God-given responsibilities to your wife and step up to them. Similar to Peter against the Sanhedrin, you must ask yourself "Is it right in the sight of God to listen to your wife and society rather than to God?" (Act 4:19) Your call.

Fathers are responsible.

Beyond being the responsible leader (and lover) of the wife, husbands with children (which we term "fathers") have additional responsibilities. I wrote of these the other day. We are to teach our children, discipline them, instruct them, disciple them. Guys, this is not a part time job. So when we set up this notion that "I'm spending all this time away from home so my kids will have a better life," it's a false dichotomy. A "better life" would be the one prescribed by God ... the one where you are meeting your responsibilities to your kids to "teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deut 6:7) Not someone else's responsibility; yours.

Like the captain of a ship, if something goes wrong on board, it is, at the end of the day, the responsibility of the father and husband. We for too long have abdicated our responsibilities. We want to go along to get along or we want to dominate, both wrong choices. We will more likely respond favorably to supportive wives than contentious ones in direct opposition to the example we have in Christ and His Church. Like most other things, we want to make it all about us when it isn't. And we're seeing the dire consequences. Divorce rates, broken families, wild kids, angry or sad wives, the consequences are everywhere. We ought to be the prime examples of what a godly family looks like and the world has the audacity to tell us there is no apparent difference. Husbands and fathers, make a difference. Be different. Be a radical man by being an obedient one, the man God has commanded us to be.
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Cor 16:13-14)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Worship

It's Sunday. Hopefully you're headed for church (or you've already been, depending on when you read this). Chances are you just ... showed up. Oh, maybe "just showed up" doesn't express it properly. Likely there were a few tensions in the morning. Seems to be a universal thing. Kids or spouse or unexpected traffic or uncooperative hair or something. But the extent of your preparations was basically to get up, get dressed, and go. "Yeah," I can hear you saying, "What's your point?"

Every weeknight I set out the things I'll need in the morning -- breakfast preparations, prepare some coffee to turn on before I get up, set out my Bible to read, set out my clothes, that sort of thing -- to prepare for ... my workday. Seriously? All that preparation for something as unimportant as work?

So why is it that we can prepare for a morning in the direct presence of God and in the company of the saints by ... doing nothing? Why is it that we prepare more for a job interview than an interview with God? Why not put a little forethought into meeting with God?

There are things you can do. Perhaps your pastor is preaching through a text. You know where he'll be; read it in advance. If nothing else, a psalm or two will help put your mind in the right place. Certainly there is the possibility of prayer prior to church. Prayer for the pastor, the people, your family, your attention span, your heart and attitude, your ministry at the church (You do have a ministry, right?), God's work there ... lots of things. It is likely a good idea to reflect on your sin and confess it. It seems as if there are many good and recommended things we can do in preparation for church.

It just seems wise to prepare to worship. Many of us have already set aside any sense of propriety of dress in church. So what if we're meeting with God? No need to put on anything more dressy than a pair of shorts and flip-flops. Even though studies have shown that how we dress changes how we feel and act. Even though we would routinely dress well in certain circumstances. Just not to meet with God and His people. That doesn't rate. Okay. Fine. I won't fight that fight here. But surely it would be beneficial to you, to your family, to your fellow church folk, your pastor, to everyone involved if you would spend even a little time getting your heart and mind ready for a morning spent in the glorious presence of God. Wouldn't you think?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Free Speech

It has been said that true freedom is the freedom not to do what we want, but what we ought. How would that apply to "freedom of speech"? Well, to Christians it would look something like this. "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." (James 1:19)

Now, there is surely more to it and there is a broad range of "speech" and its applications, but I got to thinking the other day about our "speech" on the Internet. There is a sense to most people that the Internet is somewhat "safe" (in the sense of being able to say what you want without serious repercussions), even anonymous. It's a simple thing to say things online that you wouldn't say face to face because there is a buffer, a distance between the speaker and the hearers. So we speak with some sense of impunity. As James aptly says, "Brothers, these things ought not to be so." (James 3:10)

I would contend that if there are biblical commands about how we should speak, they should apply to how we speak online as well as in person. So what are those biblical commands? How should we speak online?

Well, first, there are those three factors from James. Hear first and foremost. We are always too quick to respond rather than to listen, examine, question for clarity, and figure out what is being said. A response, then, should be "slow". That is, planned, worded intentionally, carefully examined and weighed, and then offered "audibly". And while anger may, at times, be appropriate, it should be rare. We should be slow to anger. Now, that's just one set of instructions on the subject, but you can ask yourself already, "Do these three items characterize my Internet speech?"

But we're not done. In our speech there needs to be two clear components. We are always supposed to be "speaking the truth in love" (Eph 4:15). It must be truth. (And I've seen far too many, including myself at times, who have made claims that were not true. Not enough examination, "homework", etc.) It must have love as its motivation. So, if you can't see a way for sarcasm, insensitivity, rudeness, or insults to be classified as "love", perhaps you ought to refrain from using them. (Note: I said it that way for a reason. We are warned not to answer a fool according to his folly because we might end up being like him, but we are also told that there are times when doing so is necessary (Prov 26:4-5). We need to discern the difference and the need.) Truth and love ought to be the benchmarks of our conversations in person and online.

There is more. "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." (Col 4:6) Does that command describe your Internet presence? "Set the believers an example in speech." (1 Tim 4:12) Do your Internet conversations set an example for believers? Paul tells Titus, "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us." (Titus 2:7-8) Notice the motivation: "so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us." We ought to be models of, among other things, "sound speech" and we ought to be models so that our opponents will have nothing evil to say about us. Does that characterize your Internet discussions?

As in everything for believers, there is one underlying, overarching purpose in everything. "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31) It's really easy to get caught up in the moment. God's name is being slandered. People are saying false or foolish things. There is someone wrong on the Internet. It's easy to get caught up, but when our responses don't line up with the commands we're given, it probably is not because we're so caught up in glorifying God, being examples, aiming at being gracious, or loving our hearers. These, however, are key components of what God's Word says should characterize our speech. That would include Internet speech. And we should to be free to do what we ought rather than merely what we want -- to speak as we are commanded. That's the kind of free speech we should practice. That's the kind of conversation we should model.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The New Golden Rule?

I read recently where a PCA church in Portland is encouraging all members to just get along after the whole SCOTUS ruling redefining marriage. "Some of us are putting rainbow filters on our Facebook avatars while others are disappointed in the SCOTUS decision but are holding our tongues on social media for fear of being labeled in an unfortunate way," they say. For those in their church who are happy about the ruling, remember not to look down on your "weaker brother". For those who are concerned about the ruling, remember not to force your theology onto your government or those who disagree. Instead, "choose to wish them well in the lives they've chosen for themselves." And then they (whoever wrote this thing) suggest that many "advocating for our gay and lesbian friends" "feel we're being guided by the Golden Rule."

I am intrigued by this idea. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If I was in the reverse position, what would I want them to do unto me? Well, let me think. In the past I have made bad decisions, chosen bad paths, gone down wrong routes. (This is not to suggest I'm immune now.) Far too often I have had people I considered friends nod and pat me on the back and encourage me to "go for it". You know, "Whatever floats your boat, man. We're here for you." And on more than one occasion, as I've hit the end of that line and emerged bruised and bleeding, they've been there to help dust me off and said things like, "Yeah, we were afraid of that." "Wait, what?" I always want to say. "You saw that coming and didn't tell me??!!" What would I want people that care about me to do if I headed down a path -- say, a path that God says He hates -- and didn't see it? I would pray that the people who cared about me would warn me off, would flag me down, would encourage me to repent, would pray for me to stop, would offer help and support in going the right way rather than the wrong.

Maybe that's just me. Maybe others would like to be encouraged in their sin and error. Maybe they don't want to see their error, repent, and do what's right. Or maybe those who feel they're being guided by the Golden Rule don't see it as error. But if we're talking about people in a theoretically good church with theoretically biblical teaching who can theoretically understand that God (Lev 18:22) and Christ (Matt 19:3-12) and Paul (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10, etc.) (which, given that it is the Word of God, is all the same thing -- God speaking) are opposed to the redefinition in favor of sexual behavior He deplores, I cannot fathom how it could be classified as not an error. Oh, that's right, this new generation of "good churches" with "biblical teaching" have figured out the truth that all of Christianity failed to see prior to their arrival. I don't know ... sounds amazingly arrogant. So I can only guess that there is a radically different version of "the Golden Rule" of which I'm not aware.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Father's Job

There is simply not a lot of strategies or instructions in the Bible regarding child rearing. We have a lot of self-help books and "tried and true programs", but not a lot of Scripture. But we do have this one.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:4)
Does that strike anyone as odd? It appears that Paul stuck two diametrically opposed things side by side in this sentence. There is "discipline" and there is "do not provoke". I mean, can you discipline and not provoke your kids to anger?

The word for "discipline" is παιδεία -- paideia. It refers training, teaching, tutoring, that kind of thing, but includes chastening and disciplinary correction. So we can't get around the conundrum with "It doesn't have to be painful to train." So how is it possible for parents (note that it is fathers here) to provide disciplinary correction in their training of their children without provoking them to anger?

We might get a hint from Paul's parallel passage in Colossians. "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart." (Col 3:21) It's the same concept, but a different word. This one is ἐρεθίζω -- erethizō. It means literally to stimulate. But the Ephesians 6 word is παροργίζω -- parorgizō. Even though the King James translates both the same, this one is slightly different. It means to provoke anger alongside (near). When you stick these two together, you'll see the idea. Don't make a practice of constantly engaging with or pushing your children into anger. Don't stimulate them to anger. Don't exasperate them.

Now maybe we can make some sense of it. Fathers, don't do stuff that, after constant exposure, makes your kids angry. Do they know the rules or are you just winging it? Are you consistent? Are you fair, meaning both equal standards as well as equal treatment (no favoritism)? Do you only respond with anger? Are you punishing them for things you model or are you a model of what they should be? Do you have a child-centered home? (No, that's a bad thing. So when you make them believe "It's all about me" and then try to correct them, this will not go well.) Do you train only with correction or do you also praise? Are you reliable? When you promise something (pleasant or unpleasant), do you carry through? Do you make false threats? Are you unkind, mocking, ridiculing? Do you compare them to each other? (What is more exasperating than "Why can't you be more like your sister?" or the like?) These things (and others) go a long way toward provoking your kids to anger.

Now, in our rush to avoid angering our children, we seem to think we're off the hook for the last half of the command. Too many parents push off discipline, thinking it's archaic or old-fashioned. Maybe they were improperly disciplined as children and think it can't be done. Maybe they're more concerned about being a buddy to their kids. Nowhere do you find the command, "Be your kids' best friend." But to discipline and instruct? Yes, that's a command. And then parents will hand off their kids to someone else to be instructed. Dads, that's your God-given job. We don't get to hand that off. Whether your doing it directly or getting help from your wife or others, it is always your responsibility. So when we hear of kids who leave home and leave the church, who is responsible?

It's odd, isn't it? I mean, we aren't given a lot of instructions here or even a list of responsibilities as fathers. We have more input on being a husband. And yet there is little at which we are failing more than this. Scripture says, "The glory of sons is their fathers." (Prov 17:6) (We might think that's turned around; it isn't.) Dads, are you the glory of your sons? Or are you an embarrassment at best and exasperating at worst? Improper discipline can exasperate a child. Discipline and instruction in the Lord, administered with love at its core, is not only beneficial; it is commanded. And bottom line, that's your job, fathers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Mutable

I'm sure you've seen the shift in public perceptions. And not just the public in general. Seems like every week some well-known pastor is "coming out" (that's a play on words there) in favor of homosexual relationships. A recent issue of World Magazine had an article about a Bible-based pastor who started "City Church—an attempt to build a biblically focused congregation in San Francisco" in 1997 and then shocked the now large congregation in March by announcing that practicing homosexuals could be members in good standing. Times, they are a'changin'.

Leviticus 18 has the famous "anti-gay" verse that those opposed to the claim that the Bible opposes homosexual behavior like to mock. Let's see ... in what ways? Well, they'll tell you "That's Old Testament" and ask if you eat shellfish. They'll tell you "It doesn't mean loving same-sex relationships." They'll do all sorts of dances.[1]

Here's the actual text.
You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. (Lev 18:22)
It's interesting that the language construction of "lie with a man" is the exact same construction of Paul's Greek word, arsenokoitēs. (It means literally man in bed with man.) But, of course, the dance continues. "It doesn't mean loving same-sex relationships." Except that the text doesn't refer to either "sexual orientation" or whether or not "love" is involved. It refers to sexual acts between the same gender. Both Old and New Testaments classify this as sin. And this text in view here calls it "an abomination".

So, what about that whole "shellfish" thing? Is that an abomination, too? As it turns out, no. The passage on that says,
These you may eat, whatever is in the water: all that have fins and scales, those in the water, in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you, and they shall be abhorrent to you; you may not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses you shall detest. (Lev 11:9-11)
You will notice, even if you don't care, that this one says "detestable", not "abominable". It's not a non-issue. The two texts use different Hebrew words. Presumably to suggest that they are not "abominable" or "detestable" in the same way.

There are a couple of problems with today's "Christian" dissenters on the subject. Very often they'll give you that whole "Old Testament" objection. "Well, do you do other things the Old Testament forbids?" Like that's a measure of what's right or wrong. Using this logic, there are some disturbing values we'll need to change. Leviticus 18 precludes sex with your neighbor's wife (Lev 18:20), offering your kids to Molech (Lev 18:21), and bestiality (Lev 18:23). If you're paying attention, I just gave you three verses directly adjacent to Leviticus 18:22. So if we are dismissing that one, we ought also to dismiss these others. Or they'll tell you, "Maybe God changed His mind." I've actually been told that God brought about these changes we see today. All of Jewish history and all of Christian history has been wrong. God finally got around to straightening things out. And ... whew! ... was that a lot of work. This, of course, is worse than the changes in values we'll need to affect. This is a change in God who does not change (1 Sam 15:29; Jer 4:28). Indeed, if God does change, we can't be sure of anything. And that would include His promise to save (Heb 7:21). If God found something abominable and then decided He liked it, what can you be sure of?

Now, of course, those who have moved away from the biblical and historical consensus[2] aren't going to read this and say, "Well, looky there. He's right! I'm changing my views." Not my point. But in this day and age where many, even with names you know, are "going out from us" against Scripture and history, I wanted to help bolster those who might look at the exodus and think, "Wait, am I wrong?" If you are (if we are), you are wrong on your other values as well and probably ought not place too much stock in a promise of salvation from a God who changes His mind. That's the alternative to siding with Scripture and history.

________
[1] You'll hear this argument, too. "There are only 6 verses on the subject. How can you draw a conclusion from that?" There are fewer than 6 verses on bestiality, pedophilia, and a host of other things the Bible touches on and on which we all agree. Are you sure you want to make a count of verses the measure of a moral value?

[2] Note that all of Jewish and Church history has agreed on the subject up until the late 20th century, and all of the biblical texts on the subject agree as well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Audacious

We've all heard the outrage. "Are you saying that if people don't accept Christ, God will condemn them to hell?" "Are you saying that Jesus is the only way?" "Are you saying I'm a sinner and need Jesus?" "Are you saying ...?" Lots of these kinds of questions. They're always worded to make you sound ridiculous. "How outrageous that you would make such a claim!" And, in truth, it can make many of us hesitate. "It does sound a bit audacious, doesn't it?" (Even if you don't use the word "audacious".)

As it turns out, I can answer these types of questions without hesitation. "No, I'm not. God is." You see, I'm not the one who said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me." I didn't inspire John to write, "Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother." (1 John 3:7-10) "Wait," I've been told, "are you saying that the one who makes a practice of sin is not born of God?" No, no I'm not. That is God's inspired Word saying that.

There is a difference in here. When the Bible says, "Go, therefore, and make disciples" and someone tells me (as they have), "That means that everyone needs to leave home and go to the mission field," I just might say, "Are you saying ...?" Because that's not what it says. But when it says, "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Act 4:12) and I repeat that, I am not saying it. I'm repeating it. When I say, "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18), it's not my idea. I'm simply quoting Jesus.

Is it, then, audacious (remember my word earlier?) to make such claims? I would argue that the more bold, impudent, and disrespectful (because that's the definition of "audacious") thing to do would be to deny it. You know, like the serpent in the garden: "Did God say?"

Update
And then I find this little item warning against binding conscience unbiblically ... something that I was talking about, too. I think that I can say with relative certainty that he didn't get it from me, but it's nice to see something like agreement elsewhere.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Blessed

When I was young I was encouraged to memorize Scripture. Preferably large amounts. (We were fond of John 11:35, for instance, because "Jesus wept" was easy and we had memorized Scripture!) So there were passages like Psalm 139 and James 1 to memorize. And Psalm 1. It starts out like this.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. (Psa 1:1-2)
We have here two approaches. One is positive and one is negative. The man who is blessed[1] by God delights and meditates in God's law (positive) and avoids the counsel, the path, and the seat of those opposed (negative).

Now, in theory, we all might nod and agree. I mean, it's not hard to see, right? So why is it that we routinely spend so much time in the place that we can rationally and biblically see we shouldn't? Christians today are deciding their strategies for life -- health, finances, careers, morality, worldview, etc. -- based on "the counsel of the wicked". Most of the questions I get from Christians -- you know, the "puzzlers", those ticklish questions that they just can't seem to get around and that threaten their faith -- come from "the seat of scoffers". And how many do you know that have bought into "you should certainly try living with a person before you marry them to see if they're the right one" kind of thinking? Just an example of "the path of sinners". More and more Christians are having their life views and strategies informed by the world. Rather than God's version of right and wrong, we're switching over to the world's moral values du jour built on the counsel of the wicked, the path of sinners, and the seat of scoffers. Churches and Christian organizations will hire consultants and adopt strategies for growth based on the practices of the world. Marketing strategies, websites, technology, entertainment, social media, a concert atmosphere of worship rather than a worship atmosphere, self-help sermons, make things "cool" and "hip" (substituting, of course, the current vernacular for such concepts) ... there is a host of popular practices informed by the world and not the Word. And we're thinking they're Christian ideas and practices.

So we nod and agree that the way to be blessed is to delight in God's Word and we delight instead in the counsel of the wicked. We affirm fully that the way to receive God's favor is to delight in God's law and we embrace, on the side, the path of sinners. We are certain that delighting in God's ways is the path to blessedness and find ourselves sitting with scoffers instead. And let me ask a pointed question. Do we even have a concept of what it means to meditate on God's law, let alone "day and night"?

Maybe America's Christians need to start with repentance. Maybe we need to not stop there. Maybe we need to memorize and meditate on Psalm 1. For starters (Rom 12:1-2).
________
[1] "Blessed" is a much richer term than the modern "happy". It refers to divine delight. In the Jewish mind at the time, "blessed" was contrasted with "cursed", where "blessed" was embodied in the concept that God had His face turned toward you (Num 6:24-26). It is not merely happiness, but God's favor.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Spit and Dust

As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7)
Interesting story, to be sure. Interesting because of the whole "who sinned" question. Because, as everyone knows, the only reason bad things happen is as a judgment from God. But, apparently, Jesus disagrees. Interesting for the question of God actually having a man born blind. Because God doesn't do that. But, apparently, Jesus disagrees. Interesting for the whole "so that the works of God might be displayed in him" thing. Because it's a pointed answer to the whole "Why do bad things happen to good people?" question. That's one reason. But the interesting point that I'm getting at is this dirt and spit solution Jesus came up with. What's that all about?

We know Jesus didn't need to use methods like this. In one instance a woman touched His garment and was healed (Luke 8:43-44). In another a Gentile asked for healing of a paralyzed servant and told Jesus He could just command it (Matt 8:5-13). I mean, Jesus didn't need tools or gimmicks to do His works. But in this case, He spit on the ground and made clay. Commentators suggest (suggest because the text doesn't say so it's merely supposition) things like "Man was formed out of the clay, and moulded like the clay, and here Christ used the same materials to give sight to the body that at first he used to give being to it" (Matthew Henry) or that the Jews believed that spittle from a holy man could be effective, but clay would blind, so Jesus showed them wrong (John Gill) or other such things. I see something more basic. Jesus used ordinary, common, even lowly means to accomplish His purpose.

Now, remember, He didn't need to. I mean, this is the same Jesus of whom John wrote, "All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being." (John 1:3) The One who spoke all things into existence and who sustains all things (Col 1:17) doesn't need means to accomplish His will. He just ... does. But God seems to be in the business of using ordinary means to accomplish the extraordinary. Perhaps it's the gospel, deemed "foolishness" by the world. Paul wrote, "God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." (1 Cor 1:21) Perhaps it's prayer. God doesn't need your requests to know what you need (Matt 6:8) and how to give it (Rom 8:26-27). But He uses that ordinary means. To me, perhaps the most astounding in terms of ordinary and lowly means He uses is us. Not much more than spit and dust, empowered by the Holy Spirit in us, He uses us to accomplish His extraordinary plans.

Perhaps there was some specific, pointed message in Jesus's unique method that day. I'm just amazed that He has chosen to use the basely common means to accomplish His glorious ends. And that would include me.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Lord Laughs

We're living in tough times. Our society is approving what God finds abominable. We are affirming what God denies. We are perfectly happy celebrating insanity that says, "I feel this is true, so it is true." And as we immerse ourselves deeper into the depraved mind (Rom 1:28), it starts to look depressing. Evil is winning. God's truth is waning. It looks bad for the home team.

Then I read the other day a passage that included the phrase, "The Lord laughs." Oh, really? What does He laugh at?
The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him, for He sees his day is coming. (Psa 37:12-13)
Did you know that? There it is in black and white. "The Lord laughs." At what? Something you said? A good punchline? No, at the wicked plots of evil men against the righteous. Why? Because "his day is coming." God will make everything right.

More, "The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil." (Prov 16:4) Did you know that? God plans for evil for His purposes and by His design. He will make it right. And all that woe that we believers see in the courts and in the streets and even in our churches? The Lord laughs. He has this all in hand. Don't worry about it.

Good to know.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Know the Truth

Everyone knows the phrase, "The truth shall set you free." I've even heard it in purely secular settings. The phrase, however, is more comprehensive, of course. "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:32) It implies a certainty of knowing as well as the freedom it brings. Still, it doesn't have a lot of weight yet. I mean, it's too generic. Truth sets free. That's about all it says. Did you know that this is not what Jesus said?
"If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)
See? That is not the same thing. That is not generic. That is not "truth will set you free." There is a prerequisite. And the truth that sets you free is not "2+2=4" as an example. Jesus was talking specifics. The truth that you would know would set you free, but it wasn't generic truth and it wasn't by whatever means you could know it.

How are we to know this liberating truth? There are two conditions. First, "If you continue in My word." The truth Jesus was talking about was the truth of His word. And, of course, if Jesus is God and the Scriptures are God-breathed, that would be the Word. But it's not merely knowledge of the Word. It is a continuity, a "remaining in", a total immersion. Second, "You are truly disciples of Mine." This liberating truth is not for everyone. It is for those who are His disciples. On this Jesus said, "You do not believe because you are not of My sheep." (John 10:26) So this truth is a truth found in the Word and is apprehended by faith in Christ and by following Christ. That is the truth that sets you free.

Lots of people like that phrase, "The truth shall set you free." I saw it once used against Christians. They assumed "the truth" that would "set you free" was that there was no God. And that's what comes from taking things out of context. The truth that you can know is not whatever truth you feel is true. It is God's truth found in God's Word obtained by following Christ. That truth can be known. That truth will set you free.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

We are the Reason

I just heard this one recently. Back in 1976 David Meece gave us the beautiful and touching We Are The Reason. Premised on "He is the reason for the season," a repeated Christmas call to remember why we celebrate Christmas. The song reminds us that
We were the reason that He gave His life
We were the reason that He suffered and died
To a world that was lost, He gave all He could give
To show us the reason to live.
It's a warm and stirring song, bringing tears to many an eye and inspiring most of us. There's only one little hitch here, and I hope you don't mind if I point out a minor issue. The song ... is wrong.

Now, I know, there is some truth to it. Christ came to save the lost. That's true. Christ died because we needed it. That's true. But is that "the reason"? If I ask, "Why did you put gas in your car?" and you answer, "Because it was empty," we have a reason for putting gas in the car. But "it was empty" is not sufficient reason. No, the reason you put gas in your car was because it was empty and you needed to go somewhere. There is an underlying reason that is sufficient, and "the tank is empty" is not it. So it is true that Christ died because we are sinners in need of forgiveness, but that was not the underlying, sufficient reason.

If you're paying attention to Scripture, the Bible is full of "the reason". Remember the original problem? "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) Psalm 23 tells us "He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." (Psa 23:3) John says our sins are forgiven "for His name's sake." (1 John 2:12) Ephesians 1 is full of the spiritual blessings with which we have already been blessed (Eph 1:3) with a repeated reason given: "to the praise of the glory of His grace." (Eph 1:6, 12, 14). Indeed, we are commanded "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31) This is the constant theme throughout Scripture. It's not about us; it's about Him.

To be sure, "We are the reason" is a heartwarming sentiment. We are just so lovable that He couldn't help but come and die for us. It's heartwarming, but it's wrong. God is always at the task of displaying His glory. That's His primary purpose. We operate from two possible basic drives. One is the innate sin nature which taints everything we do from it as "not good" (Rom 3:12). The other is God working in us which accounts for any actual good that we do (Phil 2:13). What makes it good? It is by God for God. It is for His glory. That's all that really matters.

It's not about us. We'd like to think it is. We'd like to think that we are just so valuable that God couldn't lose us. But that's not the truth of God speaking there. He is too valuable to lose, not us. If you get that mixed up, the effect will ripple through all your life. And not in a good way.