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Friday, May 14, 2021

Is God Good?

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matt 7:13-14)
I suspect that, deep down, we don't really believe that. We don't really believe that the gate that leads to life is narrow and the way is hard and few find it. Why else would we think that "America is a Christian nation"? Why else would we demand that no one question others' salvation? The way is wide and easy and lots of people find it!

Perhaps it's just our way of coping, of managing the horrible reality that many around us don't know Jesus. Many we care about. Many close to us. Maybe among our closest friends, our own family, in our own homes. Now that is a terrible thought.

It's an awful thing to contemplate. Almost as bad as physical death. This is more of a living death, at once both death and, yet, still that glimmer of hope of new life. Most of those I know who have rejected Christ -- different, of course, than those who have never heard -- are what I consider "worst cases." They're immunized in a way. They've heard the gospel, even responded to it in some sense, but never made it their own good news. They often live lives of sin without regret and even call themselves "Christians" even though the evidence -- "their fruits" (Matt 7:16) -- isn't there. Our ability to reach these is seriously blunted because they know. They've heard, they've seen, they even think they get it. They've "tasted of the heavenly gift" and tasted the goodness of the word of God (Heb 6:4-5). They may have received it with joy, but, with no root, they've fallen away. The cares and deceitfulness of the world have choked it out of them, "and it proves unfruitful." (Matt 13:20-22) Some know it; some don't. Some are hostile and some are apathetic and some are oblivious.

People we care about. A daughter-in-law or a son, a brother or a sister, a parent or a grandchild. People that could very well be on that wide way instead of the narrow. People we love. And our words have failed us and our pleadings have fallen on deaf ears if we've tried to plead with them. Or, maybe, we've just let it go. Don't question. Because the possibilities are too horrendous to think about.

Yet, we are not without hope. The hands that shaped the universe, that hold it together moment by moment, are the hands that laid themselves on a cross to save us and the hands that hold our loved ones still. When careful arguments are at an end and words are done and we're left with prayer alone, we ought not shortchange that "alone." Those hands and that prayer is all that have ever succeeded in reaching the lost heart. It has never been our persuasive abilities or clever phrases or even our deepest love. It has always been Him. So we have to ask ourselves: Is God good? If He is good and He is God, will not the Judge of all the earth do right? That is hope that does not disappoint.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Unprepared

We get PSAs that warn us to be prepared. There might be an emergency; be prepared. FEMA offers an Emergency Preparedness Checklist so we can be prepared ... for anything, apparently. Earthquakes, floods, disasters of all kinds, and now, particularly, prepared in a COVID world -- disaster upon disaster.

What about us? What about us believers? Are we prepared? "What emergency?" you might reasonably ask. We have been warned that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Tim 3:12) "Oh, that," many American Christians respond. "Don't worry; we won't be persecuted." If you try to warn American Christians about this, you'll often get ignored, shushed, or even ridiculed. "Don't be silly."

Okay, fine, but Scripture is not ambiguous on the topic. Beyond that Second Timothy reference, John wrote, "Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you." (1 John 3:13) Peter wrote, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation." (1 Peter 4:12-13) Paul wrote, "To you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." (Php 1:29) Over and over God's Word tells God's people that they will suffer. So maybe you'd like to blow it off, but I'd recommend against it.

If we are to take this seriously, how would we prepare? Repeatedly we are told that we can rejoice in suffering (e.g., Rom 5:3-5; James 1:2-4). We can rest not in personal comfort, but God (Rom 8:28-29; Psa 34:19; Rom 8:18; 1 Peter 3:14; 1 Peter 4:12-19; 1 Peter 5:10). Paul wrote, "This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." (2 Cor 4:17) We are promised a crown (James 1:12). We are follwing Christ (1 Peter 2:21).

Burying your head in the sand probably isn't the best way to prepare for the tribulations we are promised. So prepare. Read God's Word. Know what God says about it. Know the God who says it. Before it happens, be ready for it to happen because we can be sure it's coming, but we can also be sure that God is faithful, and He is our ultimate preparation.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Bigger Than You Thought

Paul wrote his epistle to Rome primarily for the purpose of making sure they knew what the Gospel was (Rom 1:16-17). You and I don't really need that, right? We're educated. We're taught. We know what the Gospel is. "Good news! Jesus died to save us!" And it is, indeed, good news; the Gospel. But I suspect the Gospel is much bigger than we typically think of it.

The Bad News
Paul's explanation of the Gospel begins with a lengthy explanation of the problem (Rom 1:18-3:20). For 63 verses Paul waxes eloquent about the problem of our sin. We face God's wrath because we suppress the truth about God (Rom 1:18-20). We decline in our suppression of the truth to utter depravity (Rom 1:21-32). Neither Jew nor Gentile has an excuse (Rom 2). In the end, there is none righteous, none who seeks for God, none who does good; no, not even one (Rom 3:10-18). Really bad news.

The Good News (Rom 3:21-Rom 4:25)
On the tail, then, of this really bad news, Paul brings about the good news. This good news is amplified by the bad news. It's good to know that we "are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24), but it's so much bigger when you see it from that bottom of the barrel we found ourselves in.

The Next Big Thing (Rom 5:1-21)
The bad news started with the righteous (just) wrath of God, so it is good news to find that because of our justification on the basis of faith we have peace with God (Rom 5:1). And while we were under Adam and, therefore, tied into sin, we are now under Christ which brings eternal life.

Bigger and Bigger (Rom 6:1-23)
It only gets bigger. Starting from the sin condition and moving joyfully to justified by faith, we now are identified with Christ. That means we are identified with His death to sin (Rom 6:2 ) and, further, new life in Christ (Rom 6:4, 8-11). Better yet, we become obedient, but not just obedient -- obedient from the heart (Rom 6:16). We're talking about a life change, a new being, a new living condition, a new person. So the Gospel promises "Sin shall not master you." (Rom 6:14) That is stunningly good news! From "only able to sin" to "sin shall not master you." We are looking, on the basis of Christ's death and resurrection, at the certainty of victory over sin.

Bigger and Biggest (Rom 8:1-39)
Romans 8 represents the pinnacle of the epistle. Despite our continuing struggle with sin (Rom 7), we see, ultimately, no condemnation (Rom 8:1). How can there be? God dwells in you! (Rom 8:9-11) We were enemies of God and now we are heirs with Christ (Rom 8:12-17). We are being conformed by God into the image of His Son (Rom 8:26-29). If God is for us, who can be against us? We are more than conquerors! (Rom 8:31-39)

This has just been a sprint, a quick overview of the Gospel as it is found in Romans. Just the high points. We understand that the Gospel means we are saved, and that is indeed good news, but the good news is so much bigger than that. Christ's perfect righteousness has been imputed to us. Not merely forgiven; declared righteous. On the basis of justification by faith, we have peace with God where we originally faced His wrath. We are identified with Christ's death to sin and now enjoy new life, which includes a new heart and defeating sin. We have God living in us. God has a plan and a purpose to shape us as heirs to be the image of His Son. We have God on our side!

What concerns me, then, isn't the Gospel. That's marvelous. What concerns me is that we, the recipients of the best news ever -- much better than we can even grasp -- might take it for granted, might take it without sufficient gratitude, might take it without the joy that it should engulf us with. That would be a very sad thing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Be a Man

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Cor 16:13)
Odd. It doesn't say, "Get in touch with your inner child" or "Get in touch with your feminine side." It doesn't suggest, "Don't act like a man; all men are bad." Worse, this wasn't even written to men only; it was written to "to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 1:2) There are certainly women under that heading. So, is Paul actually telling women to "act like men," too? (If so, as it appears to be, then it is not saying, "Don't get in touch with your feminine side.") What is he saying? Here's what it says more completely:
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)
I think, then, that this isn't about the male or female. This is about adulthood, about maturity. The contrast here isn't "Act like a man as opposed to a woman." It's about "Act like a man as opposed to a child." On the other hand, the characteristics that Paul is urging are often equated with "masculine," but, I would argue, mistakenly. If we wanted to urge a boy, for instance, to be brave and strong, we might say, "Man up." Does that mean we don't want girls to be brave and strong? By no means! We want girls to have those same "masculine" characteristics as well. So, what characteristics is Paul urging ... on all believers?

Be watchful
It's not just here (e.g., 1 Peter 5:8; Acts 20:31). Believers need to be watchful. We need to "Look out for the dogs," (Php 3:2), the wolves (Acts 20:29), those who would "climb in by another way" (John 10:1) "to steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10). We need to be watching our brothers and sisters so we can restore them if they're caught in a transgression (Gal 6:1). It's not just in this verse. But we? We're pretty lethargic. We can be quite embracing. "Don't question their salvation. Don't be judgmental. Don't point out their sin. Don't bring an accusation against 'the Lord's anointed.'" Paul disagrees. He urges here that we be watchful. No, not judgmental, but neither should we be complacent. No, not accusatory, but neither should we pass over transgressions. We should watch for false teachers (Matt 7:15-16; 1 John 2:18-19) to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3-4) and for believers in sin to restore them (Gal 6:1), for instance. Be watchful "as men."

Stand firm in the faith
Again, this "stand" command isn't just in this text; it's all over (e.g., 2 Cor 1:24; Gal 5:1; Php 1:27; Eph 6:13). We aren't fighting earthly foes; we're in a spiritual battle (Eph 6:10-12) requiring spiritual weaponry (2 Cor 10:4-5). Stand firm "as men."

Be strong
"Be strong" isn't merely from Paul. He says it elsewhere as well (Eph 6:10), but it is a recurring theme in the Old Testament as well (e.g., Deut 11:8; Deut 31:6-7; Josh 1:9; 1 Chron 22:13; Psa 27:14; Psa 31:24; etc.). In all those references the concept is "be strong in the Lord." It isn't talking about mere human strength; it's the strength exercised by His people supplied by God for God's purposes. Be strong "as men."

Do all you do in love
These characteristics are distinct but not separate. We are to be watchful while standing firm, standing firm while being strong, and being strong while being watchful. So this last one actually encompasses and shapes them all. We are to be watchful in love, standing firm in love, and strong in love. Love is to motivate it all. No, of course not "warm affection" love. That's nice and all, but this is the love that we choose, the love that works for the best of others. It's the love that considers others as more important than I am (Php 2:3), that regards giving glory to God as the highest love (Matt 22:37-38), the love that doesn't hold grudges and rejoices with the truth and does not seek its own and believes the best of others and never fails (1 Cor 13:4-8). Love like that. Let everything you do be in love like that "as men."

In the end, then, this isn't about "maleness" or "femaleness." It's about being "a mature man" in the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13), "no longer children, but speaking the truth in love" and growing up "into Him who is the head" (Eph 4:14-15). Act like that mature person.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Next Big Thing

The next assault is coming. It's a documentary called 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted a Culture. They've finally figured it out. All this time Christians got it wrong. God never said that homosexual behavior was sin. It was a mistake. We've figured it out now. We have it on good authority that the Holy Spirit failed for 2000 years to get this across and now we have it. Whew! All fixed now! As it turns out, Paul did not say, "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) Nothing of the sort. Well, okay, most of the sort, but not that one phrase, "men who practice homosexuality." Definitely not in there. It was a mistake, you see, and all the modern translations that say that were forced to their translations by a mistake. Homosexual behavior has never been a sin and we've all -- from the beginning of time -- just misunderstood.

It's odd, of course, that this kind of stuff would come across as so influential. The weight of history is as light as a feather, apparently. The claim in the documentary is that the term in 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10 is a mistaken translation, so obviously it erases all the texts. The Old Testament texts (Lev 18:22; Lev 20:13) and the New Testament references (Rom 1:26-27) are no longer of any consequence. Or, to put it more clearly, you're a fool if you think you can reliably understand your Bible.

It's interesting, though. Did Paul say "homosexual" in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1? The word, as it turns out, is somewhat of a puzzler. It is ἀρσενοκοίτης -- arsenokoitēs. The King James translates it "those who abuse themselves with mankind." It's a two-part Greek word that sticks together "men" and "couch." In the Bible it appears only in those two places and in extrabiblical Greek texts it looks like it doesn't appear until after Paul used it. It could be that Paul coined the term himself. So what does it mean?

Back in 2015 the "glbtq Project" shut down its website because the online advertising business model didn't work. But they archived much of their data, so you can still find this entry on the Apostle Paul. Yes, a project aimed to be "the world's largest encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer culture and history" has an entry on Paul specifically because of his writings on LGBT issues. What do they say? Two words are in play here. One is arsenokoitēs and the other is malakoi. They say on the malakoi, "We can say with certainty, are males -- boys, youths, or adults -- who have consented, either for money or for pleasure, for some perceived advantage or as an act of affectionate generosity, to be penetrated by men." The former they say comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament -- the Septuagint. It is the word used in those Old Testament passages. They conclude, based on their examination of the language and the history of the word, "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." They are saying that the translation "those who commit homosexual acts" is precisely the intent of the texts. (They also point out that the Romans 1 text was "meant to condemn female homosexuality along with male.") These aren't "radical right homophobes"; these are pro-gay folks. They happily dismiss Paul because "Paul outlawed all sex except that between married couples" and who could take that seriously? But they certainly see that the translation is correct and the prohibition is ... biblical.

You can conclude a lot of things. You can conclude, "I don't much care what the Bible has to say." Lots of people do. You can conclude, "That's just outdated material." You can conclude, "It actually means something much different, albeit more obscure." But you can not conclude that the Bible is reliable, God-breathed, and able to be understood without concluding, as those at the glbtq Project did, that Scripture calls homosexual behavior a sin. Current gay biblical theologians in the 1946 project not withstanding.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Mother's Day, 2021

Paul wrote, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'" (Eph 6:1-3) A command with a promise; how nice. But ... do we do it?

It's interesting that Paul seems to equate "honor" with "obey." Is that a virtue anymore?

Paul told Timothy to treat older women as mothers (1 Tim 5:1-2). That's interesting. Apparently Timothy knew how to treat a mother. It would appear that Paul believed that treating women as mothers was something that could be easily understood. "But what about the kid that grew up with a lousy mother?" At first glance, that would seem to be a problem, but I would argue that all of us have an idea of what a good mother would be like, so even without the experience, we'd be able to treat older women as mothers and do it well.

I am not one of those who grew up without a good mother. I am one of the blessed who had a scintillating example of a godly mother. She taught us what we needed to know, urged us to be godly, and imitated Christ for us. She taught her daughters how to be godly wives just as our mother has been to our father. That has worked out well (as we knew it would). We boys learned to be gentlemen and to honor people everywhere, especially women. That, too, has worked out well. My mother immersed us in the Word and in the truth, and that has worked out very well.

I am indeed one of the most blessed when it comes to my mother. So I'm not as concerned about what to buy her for Mother's Day. I want to be sure that I am honoring her carefully and consciously all the time. And I pray that my daughter can become that kind of a mother to her kids. My mother fulfills the promise of Proverbs 31 -- "Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her." (Prov 31:28)

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

News Weakly - 5/8/21

American Totalitarianism
Bruce (aka Caitlyn) Jenner was asked about his views on biological males competing with biological females as 34 states have made or are considering making policies preventing it. He said he was opposed to biological males competing with biological females. Bad call, Bruce. Yes, sure, you are transgender, but now you're anti-trans as well. The thought police have spoken. Insanely, but they have spoken. It is wrong, evil, and abominable to have an opinion that runs contrary to the ruling class who, obviously, can't be wrong.

And You Thought it was Just the Rich
We all know that Biden plans to continue to up the spending. We all know that he plans to do it by taxing the rich. I guess we know that's not entirely the case. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the Federal Reserve may have to raise interest rates. Why? To "keep up with President Biden's spending proposals." No, not just the rich; anyone who borrows money. That's not just the rich. Biden told Virginians that "people making less than $400,000 "will not pay a single penny in taxes." Biden ... "misspoke."

Perfectly Fair
Derek Shauvin was convicted of murder, and now we find that one of the jurors that convicted him participated in a protest about it last summer. I'm sure there was no prejudging, no overt bias. I'm sure he was perfectly fair.

Fight Makes Rights
The New York State Court of Appeals will hear the case. What case? The case for freeing the "wrongfully imprisoned" elephant, Happy, who lives at the Bronx Zoo. The Nonhuman Rights Project is "seeking recognition of her fundamental right to bodily liberty." Imagine that. First, it will necessarily end all zoos and other places where animals are not enjoying "bodily liberty" ... including places where endangered animals are protected. More importantly, it paves the way, lacking any other basis for "fundamental rights" (since we've eliminated God in this equation), for whatever "fundamental right" you may wish to claim.

Like the case of 15-year-old Oregonian, Olivia Moultrie. She's some sort of soccer superstar who now demands that "an unlawful barrier" to her playing in the National Women's Soccer League be removed. The "unlawful barrier" is an age restriction. We should, by no means, have age restrictions. If she can play at 15, let her play. If he can drive at 10, let him drive. If they can work at 8, let them work. What's with all these artificial, "unlawful barriers"? And why would any organization be allowed to make rules? We live in a world absolutely governed by "how I feel," resulting in the total loss of absolutes ... and reality.

As in the case of Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand biological male who will be the first transgender Olympian when he competes as a woman in this summer's Tokyo Games. "I feel" trumps science and reality every time. And you will concur, or else.

Anti-Voting?
Once again the evil Republicans "advance a restrictive election bill", this time in Texas. Earlier this week it was Florida. Republicans have the gall to think that voting should be regulated to prevent fraud. Democrats have historically objected to preventing voter fraud, as demonstrated by mantras like, "Vote early; vote often." Currently it's considered racist to ask voters to identify themselves as legal voters. (We don't yet know why it's not racist in other circumstances like asking drivers to identify themselves as legal drivers or drinkers to show ID to prove they're of legal age, for instance.) Perhaps the Babylon Bee points it out best in their headline, "White Liberals Watch In Amazement As Black Man Acquires ID." I say "anti-voter fraud laws" and the media says "anti-voting laws." I suppose our biases are showing.

Honorable Mention
I had to point out this other story from the Bee. It's supposed to be funny, but I'm afraid it's closer to "Next year perhaps" rather than "That's just silly." It just feels like we're too close to "Greetings, menstruating partner, and may you have a satisfactory birthing person's day this year!" on a Mother's Day card.

Friday, May 07, 2021

God is Not Love

There are those -- they call themselves Christians -- who would like to tell you that Christ did not die to save us. There are, of course, shades of intent there. On one end of the spectrum they will claim He didn't die at all. On the other end, sure, He died, but it was not to save us. We aren't saved "by His blood." God's wrath was not satiated by His Son's death. That's just barbaric. No, no, Jesus certainly (probably?) died, but it was for other reasons, not to save us. God does that all on His own. He doesn't need to be propitiated. He doesn't need to be expiated. He's perfectly fine. Your sins are forgiven, such as they are. Come on in!

There are problems with that, of course. It sounds reasonable. It sounds more friendly. I mean, why not have a God who can just wave His hands and your sins vanish? You can forgive; why can't He? Well, first and foremost, if the Gospel is about God's justice (Rom 1:16-17) -- if the Judge of all the Earth will always do what's just (Gen 18:25) -- then "all is forgiven" without justice is a rank contradiction. If God is to be true to Himself, He must be just.

The second, perhaps most obvious problem, though, is that the notion contradicts Scripture. Over and over we read things like God putting Christ "forward as a propitiation by His blood" (Rom 3:25) requiring 1) God to be propitiated -- His wrath satisfied -- and 2) Jesus's blood to do it. The New Testament is rich with this kind of language, and dismissing it simply dismisses the Scriptures.

There is one other critical result of this assault on Christ's sacrificial death on our behalf. The result is a love shrinkage. Paul indicated that God demonstrated His love for us by sending Christ to die for us. Oh, Christ didn't die for us? Then where's the love? Scripture says that "because of the great love with which He loved us" God made us alive with Him (Eph 2:4-5) ... which, apparently wasn't necessary. Jesus said, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Except, of course, we've just decided that He did no such thing.

It isn't surprising that people deny the good news that Christ died for our sin. This is "folly to those who are perishing." (1 Cor 1:18) It is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others (1 Cor 1:23). But "to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor 1:18) So I'm not surprised that people would seek to diminish the problem of sin, diminish the cross, diminish the shed blood of Christ, diminish the gospel. They might even sound "wise." But it's not helping. If Christ didn't die for our sins, we've surrendered what God considered His best proof of His love. And that's not all we've surrendered.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Love and Marriage

Bill and Melinda Gates are getting divorced after 27 years of marriage. "We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives," they say. That, apparently, is a primary purpose in marriage.

Doing some research into changes in the concept of marriage, I read, "Right up until the end of the 18th century, though, love and marriage were mutually exclusive." Really! So, prior to today's modern world, marriage was defined as "without love" and if you did love your spouse, well, then, you just weren't married becaue "love and marriage were mutually exclusive." Strange. Of course, the problem is not in the statement. The problem is in the definition of love. If by "love" you mean "a relationship built on warm affection and deep sexual passion," then there may not have been "love" in standard "marriage" in years past. But if the command of Scripture is "Husbands, love your wives ..." (Eph 5:25), then apparently God didn't think that love and marriage were mutually exclusive.

So one of the similarities between older times and today is it appears that defining marriage has always been botched. In the early 1900's people began to think that "marriage should be based on sexual attraction and fulfillment." If you would offer that reason today and you'd get a "Duh!" response. But is that biblical? The Gates believe it is based on being able to grow together as a couple. Is that biblical? Since then changes have included increasing sexual immorality, rising divorce rates, intentionally childless marriages, and, most recently, "same-sex marriage" which, at least statistically, appears to be putting an end to marriage at all. Since the 1970's, the marriage rates have dropped by 60%. No, of course it's not just "gay marriage." It's also the "free sex" revolution and women preferring careers to relationships and women's liberation and cohabitation and divorce rates and, well, sure, "gay marriage" which managed to singlehandedly, self-consciously redefine marriage to ... well ... not much at all.

What, then, is marriage? If we don't really have a grasp on it anymore, what is it? Marriage was instituted by God despite what "modern science" might suggest. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Gen 2:24) In that single sentence is some serious information. "Therefore," because it is a commentary on what just happened. God had just made Eve from Adam and Adam called her Woman (Gen 2:21-23). "Therefore" -- out of the connections that God built into the male and the female -- marriage. "A man shall leave his mother and father." This doesn't suggest or require an exit from the family, but it does indicate a new family. It isn't a division as much as it is a multiplication. A family -- mother and father -- produce an offspring who then joins with a woman. This new couple then forms a new family -- a mother and father -- and so on. "And hold fast to his wife." The King James says "cleave," as in "leave and cleave." The word is to adhere, to cling to, to be joined. Leave parents and be joined to a wife. How joined? "They shall become one flesh." A new family is now a new organism. Eve literally came from Adam's flesh; husbands and wives become one flesh still. Marriage is a union. It is certainly sexual in nature (1 Cor 6:16), but so much more. It is emotional, social, financial, spiritual, and more. Now, considering all of that, in what sense would we say that marriage is about "growing together as a couple"? In what sense would love and marriage be mutually exclusive or would marriage be predicated on sexual attraction and personal fulfillment? How small are these views??

There is one other critical aspect of marriage to consider here. In his instructions to husband and wife in his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul makes a large claim. He quotes that Genesis 2:24 passage and then he writes,
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:32)
A profound mystery. That is, all that marriage is exceeds our meager understanding. One aspect here, by God's design, points to the relationship of Christ and His Bride. What do we know about that relationship? We know that "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." (Eph 5:25-27) We know that "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8) He didn't die for a lovely bride, but a weak and ungodly (Rom 5:6) enemy (Rom 5:10) bride. He joins Himself to that bride to sanctify and cleanse her and present her without spot or wrinkle. Given that image, how do we work "marriage is about self-fulfillment and sexual attraction and warm fuzzy feelings" into the mix?

The Bible has more to say about marriage, but I think that it should be clear at this point that our version today, even among Christians, is an anemic devolution of the original. Yes, love and marriage go together, but nothing like the plain affection and sex we define as "love" today. Yes, "grow together" is part of it, but not in a self-serving, limited, "we've run out of that" possibility. Indeed, biblical marriage has commands to love and instructions to never divorce and the certainty of a union that will, in a very real sense, tear us apart if we try to break it. One can hardly find examples of this view of marriage in our culture today. Perhaps we need to become exceptions to that problem.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Good Advice

In Proverbs Solomon offers wisdom to his son. In there, he warns him to guard his heart. "Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life." (Prov 4:23) Then he offers practical advice:
Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil. (Prov 4:25-27)
I think Solomon's wisdom is a bit more extreme than most of ours. He warns to guard his heart by first guarding his eyes. "Look directly ahead." Not to the side. Not at the temptations. Not at the things that might draw you away. Not the billboard with the scantily clad woman or that click bait on the news webpage you're reading. Know where you're going and look that way.

Then he warns him to guard his paths. If you watch where you are walking, "all your ways will be established." "Don't turn right. Don't turn left. Don't even take a step toward evil. Walk on by." Earlier he had told his son, "Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on." (Prov 4:14-15) Don't even get close. No, wait, more than that. Turn away from it.

Not us. Sure, we're aware of temptations and evil around us. We see it on our TVs and internet. It's quite difficult to avoid, in fact. It's just ... there. But it's okay. We'll be strong. We'll hold out. But too often we don't. We trip and fall. We turn right. Or left. We don't turn away; not in time.

Perhaps we would benefit from Solomon's advice. Perhaps we'd be better off taking drastic measures (Matt 18:8-9) to avoid the path of the wicked rather than dancing on the edges and thinking we might be immune. Instead we should guard our hearts, watch where we're going, know where we're going, and absolutely avoid those places of evil. Well, that is, if you have a problem with sin. If you've already arrived at perfection, none of this is applicable, of course.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

COVID-21

One of the interesting symptoms of COVID-19 was the fairly common loss of the sense of taste and smell. Very odd, but a dead giveaway even for many who had very few or very mild symptoms. I think I've discovered the latest mutation of the COVID-19 virus. Let's call it COVID-21. The primary symptom of this version is less of those coughs and breathing problems and more of a loss of common sense. It might be more rampant than its earlier version ever was.

Monday, May 03, 2021

On Parenting

I was expressing my concerns about parents recently. So, since I don't like the appearance of complaining without the offering ideas, I thought I'd take a stab at parenting principles.

If we wanted to find verifiable principles for parenting, we'd likely not want to go to "modern techniques" or "the latest studies" despite that being the "go-to" for the world today. That's because we're hoping for the truth and we know that "all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world." (1 John 2:16) We know that "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot." (Rom 8:7) So if we want God's truth, it's best not to go to the enemies of God for answers. On the other hand, Jesus said, "Your word is truth, (John 17:17), so maybe that would be a better option. What do we find there on principles for parenting?

There are indeed biblical parenting principles in Scripture for any parent who would care to find them. For instance, the Bible puts fathers on the hot seat for bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4; Heb 12:7) without exasperating them (Col 3:21). Odd ... and so many of us thought it was the job of the church. Note, that doesn't mean mothers don't do it, too. It means that fathers are the responsible party. Parents are to prioritize impressing God's commands on their children. "Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (Deut 6:6-7) It is essential that parents bring up their children in the way they should go (Prov 22:6). (Why do so many modern parents appear to fail to understand that raising kids to be responsible adults is a primary job?) Fathers in particular, but mothers, too, are responsible to encourage, comfort, and urge their children to live lives worthy of God (1 Thess 2:11-12). Parents are to exemplify godliness to their children (1 Cor 11:1). And, despite all the world has to tell us today, Scripture is not vague when it says, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them." (Prov 13:24) "Careful" in the sense of diligent to do it as needed and diligent to do it carefully, not wantonly or foolishly.

There is one principle, though, that is fundamental and essential. If we are to love God with all of our being and love our neighbor as ourselves, it would seem quite clear that loving your children would be a fundamental principle of parenting. Unfortunately, I suspect that the world has worked so hard at diluting God's version of love that we might have a hard time recognizing that when we see it. It's not "be warm toward your children." It's not "encourage them in whatever they want to pursue." "But, wait a minute," you might be saying, "didn't you just say we're to love them? Isn't that loving them?" It could be, but, generally, no, it's not. It's not because of the sin nature. It's not because love isn't mere warm feelings. Love is seeking the best for the loved one. Sometimes that is decidedly not encouraging them to do what they want. It would be hate to encourage them to do what they want when what they want is bad for them. So let's keep that in mind rather than the world's "warm affection" version.

Love becomes a grand umbrella here. If the constant question is "What is best for my child?" it creates a pattern to live by. If it is "What is best for me?" that's a different pattern. But this kind of love is not always "nice." Scripture says, "The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." (Heb 12:6) (That's in stark opposition to the world's version that demands that any such thing is detrimental to children.) Discipline and chastening driven by love are parenting essentials. Discipline and chastening driven by anger, selfishness, or any other motive is not biblical and not love.

Paul told the Philippians,
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Php 2:3-4)
How's that for a parenting principle? If in general we are to consider others as more important than we are and look out for the interests of others, how much more when talking about family? How different does that look from modern parenting? Fathers, our first priority is our wife and our kids. Not us; them. Mothers, your first priority is your husband and kids. Not you; them. But we're pretty sure that parenting is all about us. What makes us feel good? What do we want? What's best for us? For instance, how does "me time" fit in this paradigm? (Note: I'm not saying it can't; I'm asking if they are the point.)

You know, if I'm honest, I think the fundamental principle for parenting properly begins and ends with love. Not the warm fuzzy type. The love that is always looking away from "me" and toward them. The love that always seeks their best even to my detriment. The love that finds its greatest joy in serving their needs rather than my own. Sometimes that's painful for them, but it has to be best for them. Sometimes it costs parents -- time, talent, money, resources, social gatherings, all sorts of things -- but if it's what's best for them, it's what love requires. I think parenting built on that principle would look a lot different than our current common version.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Proof of Love

We know that God is love (1 John 4:8). Everyone knows that. Well, sort of. But, really, how do we know that God loves us? I mean, how do you know that God loves you? Sure, it says He does, but do we have any reason to believe that?

Here's what the Bible says. We were dead in sins (Eph 2:1), but God, because of the great love with which He loved us, made us alive together with Him (Eph 2:4-5). That's pretty impressive. And it appeared to have been a theme in Paul's mind. To the Romans he wrote,
God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)
Same theme. But it's actually much bigger. He said, "While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." (Rom 5:6) Okay, so sinners and helpless and ungodly. But he wasn't done. "While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son." (Rom 5:10) So, this love that God shows is for the helpless, for sinners, for enemies.

Paul points out the impossibility of this concept in the text. "One will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die." (Rom 5:7) "No one," he is saying, "would think it a good thing to die for helpless, enemy sinners. That just isn't what we might do." Christ did. The demonstration of God's love for us -- the living proof, so to speak -- is that Christ died for enemies. Not good people. Not righteous people. Sinners.

I wonder if sometimes we find the gospel bland. I wonder sometimes if we don't take it for granted. There really is no way to describe the vastness of this good news. God loves enemies -- sinners. He loves us so much that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. While we were dead in our sin, He made us alive together with Christ. That is God's version of proof of love. I think it's pretty conclusive.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

News Weakly - 5/1/21

Mind Control
According to ABC News (and, obviously, every other news outlet), Oklahoma's governor signed 3 anti-abortion bills into law. It was because it is a "Republican-controlled Senate" according to the story (apparently because Democrats favor killing babies and calling it "reproductive rights"). The bills required those who do abortions be certified (quite clearly that's "anti-abortion" ... wait) and prohibited abortion if there is a heartbeat (because heartbeat does not constitute life; we know this because pro-abortionists have no heart and they are alive). (Idaho's governor signed the same law in his state.) Clearly the laws insure "safer abortions" (as if there is a safe way to kill a baby) and protects the lives of the baby in the womb (rightly termed "pro-life," not "anti-abortion"), but the media and the left won't ever let you hear that.

Clueless
On Friday, April 9, 2021, the African savanna elephant was put on the endangered list from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Seven years earlier, Wayne LaPierre, Jr., the executive VP of the NRA, and his wife killed two savanna elephants on a guided hunt. The outrage is palpable. "We're in the midst of a poaching epidemic, and rich trophy hunters like the NRA chief are blasting away at elephants while the international community calls for stiffer penalties for poachers – what message does that send?" They didn't kill an endangered animal. They didn't do it illegally. It isn't poaching. What message does it send? Some people haven't got a clue.

Trillion with a T
"I'm on a diet, but I just broke it with a piece of pie ... so I guess I'll go ahead and eat the whole pie." Lousy logic, but apparently it's Biden's logic. Last year the deficit jumped by $3 trillion for COVID relief. Then this year it jumped again with another $2 trillion COVID relief bill. "Well," he seems to think, "we've totally overrun any possibility to address any sort of national deficit, so let's push it on over the edge. Let's have an infrastructure bill for $2.6 trillion and, hey, why not another $1.8 trillion for American families? How will we pay for it? We won't! We'll just tax the people with money. No one likes them anyway." The government would steal from the rich to feed big government. Not all analysts think this is a good idea. The Babylon Bee made the point.

No Brainer
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is considering requiring police officers to get permission to pursue a suspect ... on foot. Well, it only makes sense. Think of it. They stopped high speed police chases when they realized there could be accidents. They took away nonlethal options from police when they realized they might hurt someone. And when do all these police killings take place? When someone resists arrest. Solution? Don't pursue people who resist arrest. It could put a complete end to police shootings if they just stop confronting potential law-breakers. I get it. The Babylon Bee does, too.

Surprise, Surprise
Seattle is reporting that over 200 police officers left their jobs last year citing "an anti-police climate." The story goes on to say, "Activists have applauded the reductions and called for additional city police department cuts." And the city council is considering a $5.4 million cut in the police department’s budget. Surprised? I'd be surprised if you were.

Pro-Female
West Virginia's governor just signed into law a bill that prevents biological males from competing with biological females in school sports. CNN calls it an "anti-transgender sports bill." Governor Jim Justice said, "I do not think that from the standpoint of our girls, that we ought to allow a situation to where, you know, for whatever reason may be, we end up with a superior athlete that could just knock our girls right out of the competition." I'd label it a pro-woman bill. The terms the media uses indicate the bias the media has. (Like on another story where CBS says, "Mike Pence praises Trump" versus Yahoo's "Mike Pence sucks up to Trump." No bias there!) An LGBTQ advocacy group said, "Lawmakers are sending a clear message that they don't value trans lives and would prefer we did not exist entirely." The language doesn't even make sense. ("We want to protect our girls" does not equate to "Trans lives shouldn't even exist.") (Note, by the way, that no one appears to be outlawing women who identify as males from competing with biological males.)

Uncommon
A small city in eastern Oregon, Baker City, has declared a state of emergency ... for the supreme lack of common sense in Oregon in terms of the response to COVID. They're trying to figure out how to counter the governor's edicts and declaring themselves a Common Sense Sanctuary. I kinda like it.

The Happiest Place
Disneyland in California opened this week 412 days into "15 days to flatten the curve." I think it's the new math. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Parents

The pastor preached a sermon recently from Proverbs about creating family traditions. Well, specific traditions, like teaching your kids wisdom. He started off with the observation that parenting has decayed over time. It seems as if each subsequent generation of parents gets farther and farther removed from good parenting skills until very few these days even know that that means. For the vast majority, it's just, "Whatever I decide is best."

I observed that at my church there are no parenting skills being taught. There is no class for moms or dads to learn how to be good mothers and fathers. The Bible urges older women to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5), and I think some of that is going on, but what are the older women teaching younger women about being good moms? What is their source of information? I ask because most of what I see and most of what I hear is our modern world's ideas. "You have to make 'me' time." And no one is teaching dads.

I raised a couple of boys. They're men now. They tell me I was a good dad. Now, I don't know if that's ignorance talking or actual. They told me that because I apologized to them for the mistakes I made as their father. But, thinking about "no one is teaching dads," I don't know if I would qualify myself as a good person to teach other dads, even with my sons' endorsement. Where do we get good parenting instruction? Where do we find good parenting principles? Where do we get good teachers and mentors for this? And if these are lacking as they appear to be lacking, is there any wonder that today's parents lack the skills and knowledge required to be godly parents? What I see offered most of the time is simply a secular notion of "good parenting" without any biblical backing.

Understand. I'm not complaining about "these modern parents." I'm not whining about "they're doing it all wrong!" I'm asking who has the secret code, the tribal knowledge, the experiential and biblical know-how to pass on to parents what God expects of them? I'm not complaining about "sin in the camp." I'm worried about families who don't seem to have the resources available to do the job. Parenting is a critical task in all societies. Christian parents should be the best informed and the most correct because they should have access to God's plan for that. I'm just concerned that they don't.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

His Great Love

Ephesians 2 begins with a serious problems for humans.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. (Eph 2:1)
That can't be good. And Paul spreads it on thick in the next 2 verses so that it looks like no hope for the home team, so to speak. But then, writing to "the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus" (Eph 1:1), he offers hope, he turns the corner, he shares the good news.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ ... (Eph 2:4-5)
It is astoundingly good news. Thus, the "But God." In opposition to everything we could have anticipated, God did something else. Because He is "rich in mercy." "Because of the great love with which He loved us."

This idea left its mark on Paul. He says this in Romans:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:6-8)
There it is again -- "but God." "Here's the problem," Paul is saying, "but God ..." The problem? We were the ungodly. We were sinners. We were enemies of God (Rom 5:10). This is not rational, Paul is saying. You don't die for those kinds of people. But God.

Paul magnifies God here. No, he doesn't make God bigger. He simply shows us how big He already is. If we don't believe the problem -- "dead in sin," "ungodly," "sinners," "enemies of God" -- then it's not a big leap, and "but God" has no real impact. However, in both of these texts, the really good news is that there is a serious problem, but God remedies it. And in both of these texts, there is the same back drop -- God's great love for those He redeems, for enemies He rescues.

Maybe you're like me. I know where I stand. I am no prize. I'm no great catch. I'm a sinner. If you are, "but God" is huge. And it has a big impact on how you live (Luke 7:47). On the other hand, if sin isn't that big a deal, then God is just being a wise investor in you. No big deal. And no major impact.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Radical

We're Christians; we know. Sin is a bad thing. Don't do it. Well, if by "we know" I mean "we acknowledge" then we know because we don't act like we know. We sin. Despite all the places in Scripture that warn, order, command, cajole, urge, and demand that we avoid sin, we sin. Sin of all types. We are forgiven sinners, but we still sin. What are we to do?

We have strategies. Read our Bibles. Get in an accountability group. Memorize verses. Get counseling. We've got a million of them. And how is that working for you? We still sin.

So what does the Bible recommend? Scripture takes a somewhat radical approach. While we're trying to legislate and mediate and provide therapy for our sin, God urges us to kill it. You can find things like "I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me." (Gal 2:20) Or, "You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Col 3:3) The command is "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matt 16:24) Jesus said, "Whoever would save his llife will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." (Mark 8:35) We must "lay aside the old self" (Eph 4:22-24) and "consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed." (Col 3:5) Paul wrote, "I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." (Rom 12:1) "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Gal 5:24) "If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." (Rom 8:12-13)

There is a pattern, and it is radical. Do you want to beat sin? Die. Don't medicate it. Don't treat it. Don't give it therapy. Don't send it to reform school. Kill it. Take it out back and beat it to death with a shovel. Then burn it and bury it. Hyperbole? Sure, like Jesus's, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell." (Matt 5:29-30) Radical? Absolutely. Literal? I don't think so. But to take it as anything less than serious is to ignore it completely, and we've gotten to be pretty good at that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

By What Measure?

In anything we measure we have to have a standard against which to measure it. For length, then, we might choose inches or meters or some such -- standard measurements of length. For sound we often use decibels (although most of us don't really know what that means). Oh, I know a good example. For sin, we use God's law. You see, that last one is illustrative of the point because we can use God's law which isn't changing or we can use Man's law which changes daily ... almost literally. Which means Man's law can't be a standard ... because it's changing continuously. And that's a problem.

In everything that we measure there must be a standard. The trick, then, is picking a good standard -- a good means of measurement. So for business you might use profit and growth, but not for charitable organizations. Those would look at wise spending for the broadest effect. So what standard we use varies by application. "Good" is a valuation that requires "bad" to define it, because a "good pizza" and a "good dog" and a "good man" are not the same things. Standards.

Paul wrote:
When they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (2 Cor 10:12)
Welcome to our nightmare. Here we see the problem that nearly all of us face. How do we measure our success? Am I a good _____? A good father/mother, good son/daughter, good worker, good Christian ... on and on. How do we measure that? By what standard? Almost without exception we do it by comparing ourselves to others of the same type. Which would normally seem like a good idea and even normally would be, except not in this case. Because we have genuine, reliable standards, and they aren't each other. Do you want to know if you're successful as one of those types of things? Compare yourself to The Standard. Look to Jesus (Heb 12:1). Find what God says. "By this we may know that we are in Him," John wrote. "Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked." (1 John 2:6-7) Paul told the Corinthian Christians, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Cor 11:1) We have the seemingly impossible command to "be imitators of God, as beloved children." (Eph 5:1) It is, in fact, God's plan for your life (Rom 8:29). "As good as your neighbor" is not the standard we are handed. "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" is (Matt 5:48).

We have a lot of problem with standards. Typically it is precisely the problem of comparing ourselves with each other. Then I'm not so bad. I'm more middle. Maybe even a little better. But not bad. It's the wrong standard. And that's where we get tripped up. We even have the audacity to judge God by our own standards. Now that's arrogance.

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Harm Principle

For those of you who know who "Dan" is, you'll likely be surprised to hear this. There is something that he and I agree on. Seriously. Dan argues that morality is based on harm. Without quite agreeing with that, I believe that harm is a principle that is involved with morality. Unfortunately, at that single point of agreement ... we diverge. Dan believes, next, that we can reliably figure out what "harm" is so we can reliably determine what should or should not be moral. I don't.

Generally, people think that "immoral" is a violation of some rule or another. I don't think so. I think that the rule documents what is immoral, but it was immoral before the rule was given. It's like the conscience. Sometimes we know things are wrong somehow without even being able to quote the rule or reason. Scripture talks about how Gentiles "show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness." (Rom 2:15) Adam and Eve ate from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen 2:17) which meant that from hence forth, with or without "Thus saith the Lord," we would instinctively know before the law was ever given. Now, we can sear our consciences (1 Tim 4:1-3), so conscience is not foolproof, but neither is it absent. Sin, then, is a violation of what is good or bad, not "harmful or harmless."

So how am I agreeing about sin and harm? Because I'm absolutely convinced that what is moral and immoral is either helpful or harmful to us. I am certain that God's "Ten Commandments," for instance, weren't some sort of morality game He was playing. They were more of a user's guide to the human being. "Don't do these things; they will hurt you. Like "You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me." (Exo 20:5) "Do those things; they will be good for you." Like "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you." (Exo 20:12)

This leads to an alternative to "judgment." Some people point to Scripture and say, "This says what you're doing is sin." And others wail, "You shouldn't be judgmental" If the aim was to try to eliminate sin in the world, it would be judgmental. If the goal was to squash evil wherever you find it, it would be misguided. But if I believe -- and I do -- that God commands what He commands for our best interest, then my intent would not be to kill sin where I find it. My intent would be to help people wherever I find them. "You know, if you do that or don't do this, I have it on good authority that it will hurt you." It's not judgmental. It's not even my own idea. It is concern for others.

Dan and I both believe that morality and harm are interlinked. The difference is that Dan is absolutely certain that he has the ability and wisdom and far-reaching understanding to determine what constitutes harm, and I'm just not that good. So I tend to rely on the Manufacturer, the Maker of humans. If He says, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? ..." (1 Cor 6:9-10) (for instance), I'm not going to castigate Him for saying so. I'm going to warn those I love. "Watch out! This will hurt you!"

Sunday, April 25, 2021

A Circumcision/Baptism Connection?

Is there a correlation between New Testament baptism and Old Testament circumcision? Some say, "Definitely not!" I would have to disagree.
In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Col 2:11-12)
Paul clearly draws a parallel between circumcision and baptism here. The connection is in regards to "the putting off of the flesh." Baptism, in this text, is the sign of having had a spiritual circumcision that parallels Christ's "circumcision" where He "put of the flesh" in His literal death and we show the same in being "buried with Him in baptism" and then "raised with Him through faith."

So, just what was circumcision all about? Recently someone asked me, "How did that work? Instead of 'Show me your papers' it was 'Whip it out and show me you're a Jew'?" That is, not a very good sign, right? Whose crazy idea was this? Oh, not crazy; it was God's idea. He instituted it as a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and his offspring (Gen 17:10-11). It was to be accomplished on the eighth day of the boy's life (Gen 17:12). And Abraham obeyed (Gen 21:4). When Moses didn't, it was nearly fatal (Exo 4:24-26).

But what was that all about? In what way would circumcision be a sign? Well, first, it was clearly a cutting away the flesh (Jer 4:4). Just the phrase should give you an image that helps you understand. We need to cut away the sinful flesh. God does it to us spiritually. But even modern medicine understands the situation. According to the Mayo Clinic, circumcision makes for easier hygiene, decreased risk of urinary tract infections, decreased risk of STDs, and decreased risk of penile cancer. Foreskins, then, are problematically dirty and potentially dangerous. And being located where they are located (trying to be delicate here), there is an unavoidable suggestion of cutting away sexual immorality in particular (a common (universal?) problem for males in particular). Beyond this, Scripture is clear that salvation requires the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22). Zipporah cut off her son's foreskin and declared her husband "a bridegroom of blood" (Exo 4:26) because it was clearly a bloody process, and without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins. There is a third sense here. In a very real way, being included among God's children is a form of procreation (Gal 3:7; Rom 9:8). Paul referred to Timothy as his "beloved son" (2 Tim 1:1). We know Paul wasn't his physical father; he was his spiritual father. We understand that a father might bring you to faith or raise you in Christ. It is a procreation parallel, and circumcision hints at that.

So why do people resist the correlation between baptism and circumcision? This would generally boil down to the paedobaptism-vs-believer's-baptism debate. Paedobaptism is infant baptism. If there is a correlation between the two and infants were circumcised in the Old Testament, then shouldn't we baptize infants now? I don't think so. First, New Testament baptism is displayed as a sign of being immersed into Christ's death and resurrection, and that doesn't happen until ... you are mmersed into Christ's death and resurrection. Second, circumcision occurred in the Old Testament when you were born and became part of the family; shouldn't New Testament "circumcision" -- baptism -- occur when you are born again and become a part of the family? Third, circumcision was a sign of a covenant between God and His people. Baptism is the sign of a covenant between God and His people. In the Old Testament, they became "His people" by being born into the family (or converted). In the New Testament the covenant is with "the one who shares the faith of Abraham" (Rom 4:16). So in order to have the sign (baptism), you'd need to have the faith. I think that makes more sense than identifying a baby with Christ's death and resurrection even if they never do. So I have no problem finding a clear and biblical correlation between the two. I do wonder if we're not waiting too long between coming to faith and getting baptised. What was it ... eight days?

Saturday, April 24, 2021

News Weakly - 4/24/21

As Predicted
Long Beach, California, passed a city ordinance that would require grocery stores to pay their workers an additional $4/hour "hero pay" due to COVID. What could go wrong? Well, grocery company, Kroger, says they can't afford it in that area and has opted instead to close two stores. Good job, Long Beach. (See what I did there? "Good job," as in "they don't have jobs anymore"? It's really bad when I have to say, "I'm being funny" because apparently I'm not.)

Inflammatory
Who in Brooklyn Center said, "We've got to stay on the street and we've got to get more active, we've got to get more confrontational. We've got to make sure that they know that we mean business."? That would be California congresswoman Maxine Waters. "Of Chauvin, Waters said: 'I hope we're going to get a verdict that will say guilty, guilty, guilty. And if we don't, we cannot go away.'" But, of course, since she's black, it's not inflammatory. It's not inciting violence. Only orange-colored white men can be inflammatory.

Blessed Are The Peacemakers
Another tragic police shooting in Columbus. A black 16-year-old girl, Ma'Khia Bryant, was shot by a police officer after she lunged at two women with a knife. He ordered her to "Get down!" and, when she didn't, shot her. Her mother said her daughter was a “very loving, peaceful little girl" and "promoted peace." Just for the sake of clarity, while I'm unhappy about a young person shot by police, wielding a knife and lunging at people with it doesn't really qualify as "peacemaker."

The Verdict
I'm sure you've all heard: Derek Chauvin was convicted of two counts of murder and one of manslaughter. Biden called it "a step forward" although we need to continue to deal with "systemic racism." And America nods and agrees. So I'm baffled. If George Floyd's death was part of systemic racism, especially in the police, why was Chauvin not convicted of a hate crime? Why was there no charges and no evidence offered? If this was a crime of racism and we were hoping this verdict would address that, why wasn't it in there? "It was a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off the whole world to see," Biden said. "Systemic racism is a stain on our nation's soul." Really? I didn't see that in the verdict. Neither did anybody else, and, yet, everyone else did, too. Chauvin was convicted of a crime of which there was no prosecution or proof since he was clearly guilty without any possibility of innocence.

Canceled by "Freethinkers'
Richard Dawkins, the darling of atheists (aka "freethinkers") everywhere, transgressed the religious rules of his clan and got canceled. Dawkins received the 1996 American Humanist Association "Humanist of the Year" award only to have it revoked by the AHA because he suggested that Rachel Dolezal identified as black and some men identify as women and some women identify as men but "You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as." Oh, bad form, Richard. Denying that a transgenders are not actually, scientifically, precisely how they identify themselves? "You believe there is no God? Yes! You're one of us. You believe that truth is not how he/she defines it? You're out of here!" As Stephen McAlpine put it, Dawkins got blindsided by the Sexual Spaghetti Monster. Yes, Freethinkers, there is a god -- the god of your own making. Dawkins thought it was Reason. He was wrong. Currently it's sexual identity, apparently. Dawkins was a sexual identity fundamentalist, and they shot him dead. So much for "freethinkers."

Words Mean Something
A high school in South Dakota is changing their plans for a "slave auction." What??!!!" I can hear you say. "They were planning to auction off slaves??" No. They weren't. They were planning to auction off student workers who would give a day's labor in exchange for contributions to the club. Not slaves. But they're changing the name because "This is a term that is so demeaning of black culture and humanity." I thought the same thing when, in electronics, they taught us about devices that had a "race condition" that was solved by a "master/slave relationship." Racist electronics. Must be white.

Insurrection
Following up on my concerns (above) about inflammatory speech, the FBI is seeking information about the insurrectionist pictured here.

Must be true; I read it on the Internet.

Friday, April 23, 2021

About God

Paul's lengthy diatribe on Man's sin in Romans covers Romans 1:18 through Romans 3:20. That's some diatribe. He wrote the epistle to talk about the gospel, "For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes ... For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith ..." (Rom 1:16-17) So, there he is, ready to extol the good news and God's righteousness -- God's justice -- but he starts with
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom 1:18)
Ouch! I thought we were going to "good news." Now we're at "the wrath of God"? So, Paul, what truth is suppressed that makes God so angry?
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:19-20)
Interesting. According to Paul, there is no such thing as an atheist. All we have are ... liars. Why would I say such a thing? It says, "What can be known about God is plain to them." Why? "Because God has shown it to them." He concludes, "They are without excuse." So here's the real question. What can be known about God and how has He made it known?

He made it known "in the things that have been made." It's called "Natural Revelation." David wrote about it. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. (Psa 19:1-3) Simply put, "Look around you!" But what can be known from that source of revelation? Paul said, "His eternal power and divine nature." Okay, good! Some of that is easy. Look around and you will see that it took some serious power to make all that is -- power we can't even comprehend. And knowledge. Even the ardent atheist can hardly resist referring to the universe as "designed." And what design? Beauty, practicality, intricacy, wonder upon wonder. My doctor told me this week that there are 13 components in the blood to get it to produce a scab -- that thing that prevents you from bleeding to death at the drop of a hat but doesn't cause your blood to harden in the body. Irreducible complexity! Design. Smart God. We know that God is gracious because of the rain that falls on the good and the wicked. Natural Revelation tells us that this God is worth our ultimate attention. There is none like Him. Creation tells us that God is uncreated (Acts 17:24), the Creator (Acts 14:15), the Sustainer (Acts 14:16; 17:25), the universal Lord (Acts 17:24), self-sufficient (Acts 17:25), transcendent (Acts 17:24), imminent (Acts 17:26–27), eternal (Ps. 93:2), great (Ps. 8:3–4), majestic (Ps. 29:4), powerful (Ps. 29:4; Rom. 1:20), wise (Ps. 104:24), good (Acts 14:17), and righteous (Rom. 1:32); He has a sovereign will (Acts 17:26), and should be worshiped (Acts 14:15;17:23) ... for starters.

What don't we learn from Natural Revelation? We don't learn the law (Psa 19:7-9) -- God's standards for right and wrong. Without that, we don't learn about God's mercy, not knowing how far off we are. We can't know the Trinity. We don't learn about Jesus who was sent, the Scriptures tell us, by God. We wouldn't be aware of salvation in Christ. These kinds of things require words to explain them. That's called "Special Revelation." In former times it came through prophets and apostles. Now it's found in the Scriptures. Natural Revelation, then, has its limits. So if you're happy with God's power and knowledge and beauty and wisdom and grace, but don't really need mercy or salvation, I suppose you can wing it without the Bible. Of course, given Paul's premise -- that we suppress the truth about God -- I'll wish you good luck with that because it won't likely end well.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Blessed Are You ...

I've written more than once on what is looking like a coming persecution of Christians. I've pointed out that Jesus said, "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt 5:11-12) That is, being reviled and falsely accused is persecution. I've shown that we should expect it (John 15:20; 2 Tim 3:12). Scripture promises it and our current social climate leans toward it, so don't be surprised if it happens.

I suspect, however, that, like so many other such times, I've been misunderstood. There are those who cry a warning so that you can gear up and get ready to defend yourself. There are those who tell us it's coming so that we can prevent it. And I get that; it's just not me. That's not my aim.

If, as I believe, God's word teaches us that all who wish to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12), the remedy is easy. Don't live godly in Christ Jesus. Of course, that's just foolish. All followers of Christ must wish to live godly in Christ. So that's not an option. Now what? Prepare to take a beating. Notice that nowhere in that last sentence did I suggest that you prepare to defend yourself from taking a beating. Nowhere did I recommend you get some good lawyers and some like-minded lawmakers and some reasonable judges and some good friends and set about making sure it doesn't happen. I mean get ready for it.

Jesus said it best. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:12) The call here isn't "What must we do to prevent this travesty of justice?" No. The call here is to "Rejoice and be glad." The recommendation from God is to be other-worldly. Set your sights elsewhere. This world is not our home, but we sure work hard to make it feel that way. God has provided something better for us. (Heb 11:40) Hebrews 11 talks about "the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." (Heb 11:10) It talks about the people of faith who "desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one." (Heb 11:16) This world is not our home.

That's what I'm urging. Paul said, "This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." (2 Cor 4:17) So ask yourself, what does that look like? What does life lived here for there look like? How would I live differently if I didn't live for this world? How do I need to change to do that? Hard questions.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Wasting God

High on God's list of "10 Words" -- the Ten Commandments -- is "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." (Exo 20:7) Well, we know what that means. "Don't use the word, 'God,' in a flippant manner. Good. We can avoid that. Move on." The Jews took it further, trying to avoid using it at all. So you'll see them writing "G_d" so as not to actually spell it out just to be sure it's not used in vain. Very diligent. And missing the point.

It misses the point on two counts. First, God's name is not "God." That's His title. His name is the Tetragrammaton, the famous YHWH that He gave to Moses at the burning bush. "I am." He is the self-existent One, depending on no one, without beginning or end, the uncaused Cause, the unmoved Mover. That's who He is. Second, in Scripture the use of the concept of "the name" wasn't merely a word that designated you. When Jesus said, "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it," (John 14:14), He wasn't requiring an obligatory, "In Jesus's name, Amen" at the end of every prayer. There is no magic in repeating a word that designates Jesus. "The name" meant something. It meant "Who I am." So His name "is Holy" (Isa 57:15) and "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isa 9:6) Joseph was told, "You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matt 1:21) He was named "to deliver" because He was the Savior. Names were not mere designators; they were descriptors of who they were.

Feed that back into that commandment, then. "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." That is, "You shall not take the nature of the Lord your God in vain. You shall not take all that He is in vain. You shall not take anything about the reality of who the Lord your God is in vain."

Now it gets hard, doesn't it? Don't take Him in vain. Don't minimize His power. Don't ignore His wisdom. Don't claim to follow Him while pursuing other "gods." Don't ignore His commands. Don't act as if He's not there. Don't fail to glorify Him at all times.

If "no other gods before me" is first on the list (Exo 20:3) and actually represents our #1 sin -- we routinely have other gods that precede Him -- then taking who He is in vain would likely be an equally inclusive problem for us. We routinely minimize God in our lives. "Oh, He didn't mean that when He said it." "Well, sure, I know what He commanded, but it isn't particularly suitable in today's culture." "Obedience is hard; I think I'll try for fun instead." We daily take the Lord our God in vain. We constantly love Him too little. It is, then, an astounding mercy to be forgiven by the blood of Christ and calls for daily efforts to stop that kind of blind sin. If He is indeed Lord, we owe Him much more than we're giving Him.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Fundamental Problem

The Bible is clear. All human beings share a basic problem. It's called "sin." With the sole exception in all of history of one Person, all have sinned. The basic problem for humans is sin. Jesus came to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15). Now, we're all pretty clear what "sin" is. It is "lawlessness" (1 John 3:4) -- the violation of God's law. But it's not merely "doing bad things." The root of violating God's law is the violation of God's glory (Rom 3:23). So it is there that we find our basic problem -- the failure to honor God or give thanks to Him (Rom 1:21). A big problem.

Now, for the world, not honoring God is of no consequence. They don't care. But to the believer, it's bad. I mean, we are offended by our own failure to honor God. We are offended by our own sin. So what do we do? Well, we work hard at not sinning. We read the Bible and we find someone to help us with accountability and we get in groups and we pray and we seek God's help and ... lots of really good things. I'm here to offer one more -- something you may not have thought about.

According to Paul, God's wrath is "revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Rom 1:18) He even tells specifically what truth is suppressed -- "what can be known about God" (Rom 1:19-20). The rest of that first chapter is a series of steps we humans have accomplished in our suppression of the truth of God that has precipitated our demise. Now, if the suppression of the truth about God is the primary cause of our sin problem, then it would make sense that the reception of the truth about God would be a solution.

It could be an interesting approach. "I'm tempted to ____." You know that however you might fill in that blank, it is sin. We might ask, "What is it about that sin that entices us?" But what if we asked, "What does that temptation tell me about what I think about God?" Is He not enough? Is He not sufficient? Is He not competent? Is He not capable? Is He not wise? Is He not loving? Is He not aware? I think if we thought about it in this light, we might begin to see that it is a deficient understanding of who God is that drives us to pursue those things God tells us not to. I think we would see that, when we're tempted to sin, we're suppressing the truth about God ... to ourselves. We're lying to ourselves about who God is and, therefore, feel the need to fill that void that God has failed to fill. I wonder if that approach might help us in times of temptation and in struggles against sin.