Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is a growing problem in our world. Maybe it's a woman on her way to work in the morning putting on her makeup. Maybe it's a guy juggling a burrito and a turn. Often it's one of seemingly thousands of people who are reading and responding to texts as they hurtle down the highway at 70 mph. It is everywhere. It might even be you. It might even be me.

I find that this is one of Satan's favorite ploys. It doesn't have to be a grand scheme, some horrible evil. It might be an innocuous, seemingly harmless, even a good thing. A musician may set out to use his or her talents to worship God. Lots of people notice. The applause is addictive. Soon he or she is performing rather than worshiping and not even aware of it, distracted by the accolades. A pastor may feel called to the ministry and start to minister. Overcome with the pressures, the work, and the discouraging numbers, he may opt to resign, distracted by worldly standards of measurements. A church may start out to preach and teach the Word and worship God, find itself inundated with people (along with more income, etc.), and get distracted from the message.

Distraction is insidious. We head out with all the right motives and ideas and find ourselves missing the mark (which, if you're paying attention, is the meaning of the biblical word, "sin"). It's like the parable of the mountaineers. A group of intrepid climbers set out to master a particularly difficult peak. They worked and climbed and fought their way forward. Then they came to a chasm. They puzzled for some time, devised a clever method of bridging it, and headed on. At the next one they had less trouble because of their former success. They stopped after the third one, opened a "Bridging Shop" to sell the necessary items and teach others to bridge chasms as they do their climbing. Distracted by their success, they never made it to the top. Like looking at the finger pointing to the moon.

This is why we read,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)
Weights and sins encumber and distract. Don't go there. Set them aside. Instead, look to Jesus. Don't get distracted.

Paul wrote about what an excellent Jew he was. He didn't stop there.
But 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)
That's avoiding distraction. That's assigning worldly gain, be it name or fame, money or romance, power or anything else, as loss. Neither applause nor dissent count. What really matters is knowing Christ. The aim is to be found in Him, to have the righteousness that comes from Christ, imputed by faith. The real value in life is not found in makeup, burritos, or answered texts. It isn't in finding yourself praised, feeling yourself inadequate, or gathering large numbers of followers. It is in knowing Christ, including both the power of His resurrection and sharing in His suffering. It is in becoming like Him -- His life and His death. Don't get distracted. As in driving, it can be fatal.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

More Sure

Peter wrote his first epistle as a sort of equal. You know, he refers to himself as a "fellow elder" and the like. That's because he was writing about the coming suffering that all endure, including Peter. His second epistle, however, was written with false prophets in view. As such, he establishes himself as something of an authority.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)
You see here Peter is claiming to be an eyewitness. He's not giving "cleverly devised myths" or some sort of hearsay. No, he was there. In fact, he was one of only three who saw Jesus glorified at the Transfiguration. This is pretty heady stuff. This is authority. This is an Apostle. So it might come as a shock to read what he writes next.
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. (2 Peter 1:19-20)
Do you see that? Peter says that he was an eyewitness and, as such, deserves to be believed. And then he says, "We have something more sure ..." More sure? More sure than an eyewitness? Yes!

Various translations give us various nuances on the phrase, "more sure." The Douay-Rheims Bible says "more firm". ESV says "more fully confirmed". The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (LITV) says "more established". You can see different senses in these, but the idea is the same. This is established, confirmed, solid, reliable, certain ... "more sure".

What is more sure than Peter, the eyewitness, the mouthpiece for God, the Apostle? "The prophetic Word." That's right. Peter claims that the Scriptures themselves provide a proven source better than even an eyewitness. "More sure."

Dabble with Scripture if you wish. Tear it apart and lay it, bleeding and dying, on your bookshelf. Assure us that no one but you has figured it out or that no one at all has it figured out or that it just doesn't mean that much anymore. You may even feel like you have a newer and better revelation, personally from God. But you do all of this in the face of a more sure source than the eyewitnesses that saw it. God's Word is proven and the interpretation of the Spirit is true. There is nothing more sure in this world.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Never Figured It Out

Something that has always, always bothered me. I understand why it is that Christianity in general and the Bible in particular are constantly under attack. I mean, clearly, if this stuff is true, things will have to change. Lots of things. Nearly everything. Including parts of Christianity. Everything except the Bible. So that's big. Add to that the natural hostility of unbelievers (Rom 8:7), and I get where it comes from. But here's what I don't get. Why do detractors of Christianity and the Bible often do so from the Bible? No, not by trying to prove that it's not true; by claiming that it is.

The ever-reliable Huffington Post (in case you don't get that, I'm being sarcastic there) has offered another reason why Christianity and the Bible ought to be ditched. The headline says it all. "Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene Is Fact, Not Fiction" There you have it. The end of Christianity and the Bible. You can all close your church doors and go home. Thanks for playing. Why? Well, if Christ was married as Simcha Jacobiovici claims, then Christ did not die, did not rise again, did not ascend into heaven as the Scriptures claim. And clearly "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." (1 Cor 15:17) Not good news. For anyone.

I am baffled, then, that Jacobovici uses the Bible to prove his point. Well, to be fair, some of his argument are arguments from silence. "... none of the four Gospels say that Jesus was celibate." "Never once does Paul argue that Christians should be celibate, because Jesus was celibate. Not once!" (Nor do I understand why "celibate" is so important here. But, hey, it's not my argument.) But others are taken from Scripture ... intended to refute Scripture. He, for instance, spends several paragraphs explaining that Paul was a loon. Oh, no, he doesn't say that, but it's the only conclusion I can come to. Paul, he says, was lax about Jewish law. (This is hard to maintain since Paul clearly claimed to be "under the law, blameless" (Phil 3:6) and "as to the law, a Pharisee" (Phil 3:5).) We know that he was lax because he "prayed that the hands of ritual circumcisers shake so that they cut off their own penises when they perform circumcision (Galatians 5:12)." (Whatever you do, don't go check on that claim in Scripture because it won't read to most anyone the way Simcha reads it.) No, no, Paul was a loon. His theology isn't based on God's revelation and historical events. It is a product of the pagan world in which Paul lived. Paul was simply casting the Tarsus deity, Attis, as his "Jesus", complete with a dying and resurrecting event. In fact, the reason Christianity holds that Jesus was celibate for life was simply that Paul advocated celibacy, even in marriage. Proof? 1 Corinthians 7:1. (Again, don't read the text itself or you'll find that Paul specifically instructs married couples not to abstain from married sexual relations (1 Cor 7:2-5). Using the Bible will only disrupt his arguments.) Elsewhere, Jacobovici takes it as true that Mary Magdalene went to the empty tomb to clean the body of Jesus, but he uses this to prove that Jesus never resurrected and ascended, but went on to live a full life with His wife, Mary Magdalene. Jacobovici is quite sure that the tomb found in Jerusalem was Jesus's tomb with His wife laid alongside ... by citing biblical accounts referring to Jesus's brothers (Mark 6:3).

Jacobovici's best proofs, of course, are primarily extrabiblical and consistently false. You know, like "Lost Gospels" and such. But, ultimately, Jacobovici concludes that the only way that Jesus died and rose again is if Paul manufactured the story. It is, in his view, obviously false. Christianity and the New Testament, then, is patently false. And Mr. Jacobovici has gone a long way, including using the Bible, to prove that the Bible is false. Why? Why do people use the Bible to prove the Bible is false? If the Bible is false, just make the claim. Give the facts. Offer the proof. Don't say, "The Bible claims this and it's true, so the Bible is false." Makes no sense.

Unfortunately, skeptics will snatch this stuff up and run with it. "Proof that Christianity is false!" And others will be confused and swayed. The whole thing will not be closely examined nor verified. There are good sources like this article from The Biblical Archaeology Society or this response to the HuffPo article explaining the problems with the arguments, but it won't sway them. As for me, I'll still never figure out why they feel the need to take the Bible as true in order to prove the Bible is false and feel like they're doing Jesus and His followers a favor. "No, no, you're not saved. You're damned. And you're much better off. And, yes, you're welcome." I've never figured this out.

Sunday, December 04, 2016


Paul told Timothy, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Tim 6:6) He told the Philippians, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." (Phil 4:11) Contentment is a good thing.

Contentment, in fact, is an act of worship. It says, "I recognize that all I have and am is given to me by You, Lord. I am believe You to be good and loving and am grateful for all You have given me. If You give me more, I will seek diligently to be a good steward of that, too. If you take some away, I will seek to regard that as wise care for my life as a good and loving God."

Are you offering to God the worship of gratitude and contentment?

Saturday, December 03, 2016

News Weakly - 12/03/2016

Many are terrified that President-elect Trump will be a cruel leader, deporting immigrants and Muslims right and left stealing from the poor to enrich the rich. Then we hear that Fidel Castro has died. The response? Colin Kaepernick, known for his disdain for the "American system", praises Castro. Bernie Sanders praised him when he was alive and defended his praise after death. It seems odd that those who are deeply concerned about Trump on one hand would be praising a murderous dictator on the other. I'm confused.

Makes Sense
So, there was (continues to be?) all that furor over the Confederate flag. "Take it down!" seemingly everyone yelled because it was, after all, a symbol of slavery -- oppression of black people. Now, the last time I checked, the Confederate flag was actually the flag of the Confederate States of America. Part of the issue with this secession from the Union was slavery, but only part. They believed their free speech was limited, that the North was using the South for its own gain, that States' rights were being rejected, and more. But the flag had to go because it represented the oppression of minorities.

Stands to reason, then, that other flags would be next. Let's see ... what flag would be next? What flag could be regarded as a symbol for the mistreatment of the marginalized? Think, think, think. Oh, I know! So students at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, felt the need to demand that the school put back the U.S. flag they took down. "Jonathan Lash, president of Hampshire College, said the college had taken the flag down because students felt it was a symbol of the mistreatment of marginalized groups in the US, including people of color." That's right, the American flag. Now that is a symbol to be eliminated. In the wake of Trump's election students took down the flag and then burned it. Because a world without a hated president-elect and a world without the United States of America is a better, more loving world indeed. Makes sense.

These Things Make Me Weep
So you probably heard that a Texas elector quit because he could not do what was required and place his vote for Trump. Let's see if I understand. "I will take this job as an elector and place my vote for whomever my state says I'm supposed to vote ... as long as it's the one I want to vote for." I don't doubt that this guy won't be the last.

But that's not what gets me sad. He said in his blog that the Electoral College was corrupt. You know, that thing that has been there all along according to the Constitution. But that's not all. He declared there that his primary problem was that Donald Trump was not biblically qualified to be president. Oh, now, why did you have to go there? Why did you have to drag God's good name into this? Was Hillary biblically qualified? Bush? Clinton? Which one in the last couple of decades has met biblical qualifications? No, wait ... where do you find biblical qualifications for President of the United States? He references qualifications for king of Israel. Not the same thing. He ignores the plain Scriptures that say that God establishes all authority, just and unjust. So why drag God's name through the public mud? Sometimes it makes me weep.

Baby Murder on the Decline
According to a World Magazine story, the CDC is reporting that abortion rates are now lower than they have ever been since the government started tracking abortions (1969). That's a good thing. Still, the question is "Why?"

The National Right to Life organization chalks it up to education of the public of the humanity of the unborn child. The Family Research Council credits the "tsunami of pro-life laws". There is, of course, the increase in parental notification laws to consider, too. On the other hand, the CDC is reporting a decrease in fertility overall and that medically-induced abortions have climbed 5% between 2012 and 2013 thanks to new abortion drugs.

I, of course, am pleased that the rates of the murder of the unborn has decreased. I'm only sad that it comes apart from the genuine solution. That is, it is not due to turn to a Christian worldview or an increase of people coming to Christ. Now that would be truly good news.

Heretics in our Midst
You may or may not know who Chip and Joanna Gaines are. They are the married hosts of a show titled Fixer Upper on HGTV who are very popular. They take on clients in the Waco, TX, area to fix up homes into the home of their dreams. All well and good. Until you find out, horror of horrors, that the two of them are ... gasp ... Christians who go to a church that ... God forbid ... is opposed to same-sex marriage ... that teaches that homosexuality is a sin! Oh, the humanity!

Wait ... hang on. Isn't that like ... oh, I don't know ... straight out of the Bible? Isn't that what you find in the Christian Users Manual? Wouldn't the remarkable story be "This church denies the Bible and teaches that homosexual behavior is good"? Wouldn't the real story be "There are churches out there that deny God's Word while falsely claiming to follow God"? And, of course, that's not the case today. Which is not a commentary on Chip and Joanna Gaines, their Bible-believing church, or Christians everywhere who believe the Bible, but on our society's sad state of affairs in that such people and churches are considered odd even when they're in the center of where they ought to be. Clearly in our current culture the heretics are the ones who disagree with a particular segment of society in regards to a particular sexual sin whether or not the "heretic" in view is saying anything at all on the subject. (Cosmo wants you to know that the silence of the Gaines "speaks volumes".) And, as in days of old, heretics, even cultural ones, can be burned at the stake. Perhaps not literally, but in other ways. Ask the baker, the florist, the photographer, and the rest who have stood on biblical principle to their own peril.

There are heretics in our midst. The heretics in our midst are not these people.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Always Intolerant

Christians these days are often accused of being intolerant. Of course, they don't mean "intolerant." They mean "unwilling to embrace as good what we think is good." Which, of course, is not tolerance. Tolerance requires that you ... you know ... tolerate something, not embrace it. Tolerance requires that you disagree with something. No one tolerates what they already agree with.

An interesting piece by Tim Keller points out that this problem is not new. In the Roman world into which Christianity emerged, everyone had their favorite gods. There were Roman gods and Greek gods and even household gods. There was the god, Caesar. And everyone was fine with that. "You believe your gods and we'll believe our gods. We'll honor yours and you honor ours. It's all good." The conflict wasn't that Christians had a different God. The conflict was that they refused to honor the other ones. They were even accused of being atheists. "You don't believe in our gods," they were told. See? Atheists.

Times haven't changed. We are still unable to submit to the gods of the day. There are lots of them. Humanism, materialism, science. And, of course, a host of other religions. And we're required to say, "Sorry, but yours are false and only ours is true." We're required to say it because Jesus said it and the rest of Scripture confirms it. We cannot embrace their false beliefs. By today's definition, that makes us intolerant. It doesn't win us friends.

Instead we are to lead lives of sexual purity and hospitality and generosity. We are to be multi-ethnic (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). We are to submit to husbands and love and honor wives, forgive enemies, and share in a Christian identity over all others -- national, cultural, even family. We offer a personal relationship with God predicated first on admission of guilt and repentance with salvation by grace through faith in Christ.

Some things change. Some things never change. They were considered intolerant then. We are now. It is to be expected when following Christ whom the world hated.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Maximum Fun

One of the claims of biblical Christianity is the perspecuity of Scripture. Ironic, since "perspecuity" is unclear to most of us today, but means "clear", but is not. Okay, moving on, here's the idea. We believe that God's Word is sufficiently clear as to be able to be understood by the ordinary reader. At least, that's the position. It only takes a moment, a single Jen Hatmaker, to assure us that Christ-followers routinely read the Scriptures and come to different conclusions without unanimity in interpretation. So that whole "perspecuity" thing is right out, right? Good! Because that's a tough word.

No, it's not right out. The Bible says about the Bible, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) Paul also tells the same guy, Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Tim 2:15) That is, "the word of truth" can be handled rightly or incorrectly. It takes work, diligence, effort, and, of course, the Holy Spirit sent to lead His own to all truth.

Yet, the Bible has fallen largely into disfavor these days. It once held the respect of unbelievers in America, even if they disagreed with its key points. They denied its truth, but found a lot of wisdom in it. Nowadays, however, self-styled Christians find it questionable at best. We know today, for instance, that the Bible is not clear on homosexual behavior (according to the Jen Hatmakers and Matthew Vines of this world and in direct opposition to the entire history of biblical interpretation prior to the 20th century). American Christians seem to be biblical illiterates. A reported 88% of Americans say they own a Bible and the average household has 4.4 Bibles, but so very few -- even Christians -- are being diligent about reading it or "rightly handling the word of truth".

A.W. Tozer chalks this up to youth ministry in the '60s. Okay, an oversimplification, perhaps, but he has a point. Back in 1963 he was complaining about how youth ministries were aiming more toward entertainment than teaching. He said that the common practice was to maximize entertainment and minimize serious instruction. This was followed by youth who became ministers and have geared all of church toward amusement rather than depth. Sermons must be fun. Worship must be light. Tozer says that even church architecture tends toward housing "the golden calf" rather than worshiping the Creator. "But we are winning them," his detractors assured him. "Winning them ... to what?" he asked. Not to true discipleship. Not to "take up your cross and follow Me." Not to separation from the world. Not to self-denial or discipline. Not, as it turns out, to biblical Christianity -- a following of Christ. Of course, that's just Tozer. Still, the fact is that church attendance and church membership is down along with biblical literacy and biblical Christianity.

Then there's this. A recent study says, "Churches that are theologically conservative with beliefs based on a literal interpretation of the Bible grow faster than those with a liberal orientation."
Among the key findings are:
- Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches.
- 71% of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily compared with 19% from declining churches.
- 46% of people attending growing churches read the Bible once a week compared with 26% from declining churches.
- 93% of clergy and 83% of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb”. This compared with 67% of worshippers and 56% of clergy from declining churches.
- 100% of clergy and 90% of worshippers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”, compared with 80% of worshippers and 44% of clergy from declining churches.
Another interesting thing. They reported that "about two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, whereas two-thirds of congregations at declining churches were over 60." Wait, that's wrong, right? Conservative, growing congregations had younger people while declining, liberal congregations were older? Strange.

So, what will it be? Maximum fun or biblical Christianity? Entertain them or teach them the deep truths of God's Word? Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What Did You Expect?

"Everything happens for a reason," they like to tell you. A stupid statement, at its core. I mean, of course everything happens for a reason. It is an axiom that all effects must have a cause. But, I'm sure that's not what's in view. What is most often meant is that there is an intelligence behind all that occurs and, eventually, it will be a good thing. More and more it is intended to convey "Stuff happens and hopefully something good will come out of it."

Enter the new age. For more than a hundred years we've been working really hard to eliminate God by the careful application of science. "'God created'? Why would you think that? We have Evolution!" All well and good. Except that now we've moved from a theistic view to an atheistic view. So? Well, Christians hold that mankind is created in the image of God. This gives us intrinsic worth. That gives us overarching purpose. That gives us direction and guidance. But no. "We don't need all that. Who needs God? No intelligent person needs God anymore. In fact, the really smart people don't even believe in Him."

What's the upshot? There is no design. There is no purpose. There are no rules. Oh, you might see design, but just because it looks like design doesn't mean that it is. Try watching any nature show you wish and see if the narrator can avoid the word "design" in his or her description. Can't be done. But ... nope! ... no design. And you may generate a purpose. Your own purpose. Whatever purpose you may wish. But there is no overarching purpose. It's just what you make it. "And rules? Don't be silly. We have rules." But we have to ask why. If there is no design and purpose is just what you make it and there is no Lawgiver, on what do you base your rules? Now, to be fair, generally speaking atheists do have rules. They can be kind and caring, moral and well-behaved, generally nice people. What they cannot do is have a basis for all of this that can have any bearing on what you do. Like purpose, their rules are what they make them. They will likely suggest they apply to you. In fact, their self-made rules certainly apply to your non-existent God who fails to live up to them. They have a moral code, generally, but there can be no grounding for this morality beyond their own preferences. And many thinking atheists admit this.

Given this new paradigm, what would we expect to see? We would expect a world untethered. Christians are limited to God, His design, and His rules. Atheists, whether actual or merely practical1, are not. So while Christians hold to a God-directed sexual morality where sex is moral in marriage and not in other relationships, our world has jettisoned that idea. We would expect that sexually transmitted diseases would soar, numbers of single-parent children would climb2. While logic and science tells us that there is male and there is female, we now live in a world where there is ... not. There is so much more. There is super male and super female, male/female together, male bodies occupied by females and female bodies occupied by males, male or female bodies that are both male and female depending on how they feel at the moment -- literally dozens of possibilities ... so far3. All of history defines marriage as a family built on the basis of a female and a male united for mutual support and fit for procreation. We're well past that now. Marriage is whatever you make it. Two, three, whatever. Of course, it has to be approved by the new Marriage Lords. I mean, it is no longer "male and female", but so far they're holding the line on "two". And apparently for reasons without basis it must be "two humans". No animals or inanimate objections. But those are just arbitrary and can't long stand. This new paradigm, stripping off any "made in God's image" nonsense and, therefore, intrinsic value, would result in killing people deemed less valuable ... like babies. And purpose? Yes, that's there. The purpose of life is to "fulfill yourself", whatever that means to you. Maybe it means you are fulfilled by being a good person. Or maybe it means you're fulfilled by satisfying your urges. Whatever. In the absence of design and morality, it cannot be evaluated as good or bad. Oh, mind you, it will be, but there is no basis for it. As in the other things, then, without basis, it will eventually end up more or less random. The only commonality will be "Whatever you want ... as long as it doesn't tell me I'm wrong." In this, dear Christian, you will be outlawed, if not legally, at least culturally.

This is, indeed, what we see going on today. Based on Science as god, science is thrown out the window. Genetics, chromosomes, and all that don't count; if you think you're a girl trapped in a guy's body, you are. If you think you're a black person trapped in a white person's body, you're not. Don't be silly. Why? No one can say. Because we've pulled out the underpinnings and can't figure out where to stand anymore. "But we do know it's not where those hated Christians stand. That can't be right. We know that."

Oddly enough, Christians don't seem to understand this. We think, "This is right and that is wrong." We think, "We are made in God's image and, therefore, have value." We think that God knows what He is doing, so what He is doing is good. So when they reject God as Creator and God as authority and run down these rabbit trails, we're baffled. Don't be. "How can they do that?" we so often ask. How? By rejecting God. It is what you would logically expect. It is the result of spiritual blindness. It is the rational result of practically or consciously removing God. Don't expect a rebellious people to agree with the One against whom they are rebelling. Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is coming among you. But do remember that we have the answer to the problem and pray that God will open their hearts to it.
1 A practial atheist is a person who says he or she believes in God but acts without regard to God.

2 The article claims that "single moms account for precisely one-quarter of U.S. households. Single dads make up another 6 percent." That is, something around 1 in 3 households in the U.S. are single-parent households.

3 New York City protects 31 of them. Facebook offers 51 options.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Accepting Christ

This is the key, isn't it? We -- we Christians -- all know it. It is the event, the point, the aim. What we pray for, want, hope, and work toward is to get as many as possible to accept Christ as their personal Savior. That's the phrase. "Accept Christ as your personal Savior."

Where did that come from? You see, I find (with my tendency to examine words) that it irritates me, like a seed in my teeth. There's just ... something ... wrong. What is it? It's that word, "accept". It sounds like a condescension. It sounds like someone in a superior position deigning to allow an inferior to come into his/her presence. Further, "accepting Christ" doesn't go much farther, on its own, than mental acquiescence. I accept, for instance, that George Washington lived. I don't know him. I don't relate to him. I just believe. So is this my problem, or is there a reason to wonder?

As it turns out, you won't find that phrase in Scripture ... anywhere. What you will find is a different term: "receive". Is there a difference between "accept" and "receive"? I think so. Consider. You may receive an offer to buy something you have for sale and then accept that offer. What is the difference? One is passive; one is active. One is external; one is internal. "Receive" is a passive thing handed to you from outside of you. "Accept" is your personal effort to take it in. Thus, in this example, there are two actors. One gives and the other takes. One initiates but is dependent on the other to complete. The ultimate authority in this transaction of receiving an offer and accepting that offer is the one who receives, not the one who gives. Because "accept" comes from a superior position, while "receive" does not. The dictionary defines "receive" as "be given, presented with, or paid (something)" and "accept" as "consent to receive". There is the difference between the two.

In English, you might receive a job offer and choose whether you will accept it. In football a player receives a pass. If guests arrive, the host may receive them. That is, "receive" may have effort or choice involved, but it is choice or effort related to something presented rather than something acquired.

Biblically, you will find "receive" but not "accept" when it comes to salvation. Paul wrote, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." (Col 2:6) There is "received Christ Jesus the Lord" as the starting point as the method by which we are to live. Receive Him and walk in Him in the same way. And, of course, there is the well-known passage from John's Gospel. "He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:11-13) In this "receive" it indicates that the outcome is not of birth or effort or choice, but of God.

Mind you, the Bible does use the term "accept". We are, for instance, commanded, "Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." (Rom 15:7) We are told to "accept the one who is weak in faith" (Rom 14:1) because "God has accepted him." (Rom 14:3). Oh, and we are told, "The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Cor 2:14) On one hand, then, God accepts those who are His. On the other hand, natural man does not accept the things of God. Neither one is the "accept" we are looking for.

What is the primary term used in Scripture by which we are saved? It is not that we "accept Christ" ... ever. In a few verses it is to "receive Him" (see also John 13:20). In this term it is Christ who is given and not our effort, work, or will that is in view as it would be if the word was "accept". The primary term, however, is "to believe". John's Gospel, in fact, is full of a phrase that is most literally translated "to believe into", which suggests far more than mental acquiescence, but to immerse oneself into, to lean wholly on.

Like I said, it's an irritation to me, an aggravation. It's not "evil" or "heresy". Still, it would seem to me that if we are intending to best convey what is required of someone to be saved, I would think we might prefer the biblical words or, at the very least, the biblical concept. In the biblical presentation we are more passive, receiving salvation rather than acquiring or "accepting" it. We are to believe into Christ rather than merely allow Him access to our lives. If, indeed, words mean something, I think we should try to say what is meant rather than what we've too often heard without thinking about it. Because in my mind too many people hear "accept Christ" as a position of superiority, where they deign to allow Jesus to have a relationship with them at their behest. And that is not what is in view here.

Monday, November 28, 2016


I recently argued that we err when we claim that God owes us. He is God; He owes His creation nothing. Of course, that didn't go over well. If God punishes with eternal torment some poor fellow that only committed 3 sins, that would be unjust of God. He owes us better than that. Clearly, then, I need to examine the concept of God's justice.

Terms and Usage
First, we need to understand the words we're using. The question is justice. Just what is justice?

The Bible says multiple times, "The just shall live by faith." (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11) Of course, if you read these in a modern translation, the phrase is different. Now it's "The righteous shall live by faith." That's because "just" and "righteous" are synonyms in biblical terms. To be "just" is to be "right", morally and otherwise. When Abraham asked God, "Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?", he was asking, "Will not the Judge of the all the earth be just?"

Another common use of the word is "fairness" or "equitableness". Thinking in terms of a business transaction, if you buy $5 of product from me, you owe me $5. That's "fairness". Justice is a balancing of the books, so to speak. Take, for instance, human justice. We all understand that the fair evaluation of a crime does not depend on the time it takes. It is determined by its magnitude. Thus, jaywalking is not going to be treated the same as murder. Even in terms of murder, killing someone who is attempting to kill you is not the same as killing someone who is not. Or killing a homeless person is not viewed as evil as assassinating a president. Sure, both are murder and both are wrong, but not to the same degree. We often use Hitler as our epitome of evil, as an example. He killed millions. A guy that kills two isn't as bad as Hitler. It is the magnitude of the crime that determines the fair, equitable, just response.

One more thing. I've touched on what justice is. I need to point what it is not. It is not mercy. Neither is grace justice. In the negative, justice gives you the consequences coming to you; mercy withholds them. In the positive, justice gives you only the benefits you have earned; grace gives you favor you have not earned. So we'll have to be careful not to use grace and mercy to rule out justice.

Determining Justice
I don't think I've offered anything controversial ... yet. But now we have to determine just what is equitable. This isn't as easy as it seems. Some, for instance, think that capital punishment for murder is fair; others think it's barbaric. And that's just one example. People will debate almost any point of justice here. Justice demands equality, but in every human version of this, some are more equal than others. So what is justice?

There are two ways to approach this. One is from the character of God; the other is from reasoning from biblical explanations. The first is simple. As Dan T. rightly pointed out, Scripture is full of the claim that God is just. God is certainly right, righteous ... He does what is right. Taking it from that angle, what does Scripture says He does? Because if we agree that He is just, then what He does is just -- is right. Thus, looking at God as just and seeing what God does, we can determine what is just. So Scripture says that He punishes the wicked (Isa 13:11). Scripture says that all have sinned (Rom 3:23). Scripture says that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Scripture says that the punishment is eternal (Matt 25:46). All these things and more. Going from "God is just" to this, therefore, says that this must be just because God says He does it. If you say, "No, He doesn't," you're going to have to explain why your version differs from the biblical accounts because Scripture agrees with itself repeatedly on this.

The other approach is from biblical explanations through human reasoning. We understand that justice means equity, equality, doing what is right, balancing the books. And we remember that justice is not mercy, grace, or forgiveness. So we cannot simply substitute mercy, for instance, for justice and still hold that God is just. Saying that He simply forgives is friendly, but it nullifies the claim of Him being just, right, or equitable. Think of the judge who gave the rapist a 6 month suspended sentence. The nation was outraged. Why? Because there was no justice, just mercy. So, what does the Bible tell us that helps us understand that eternal torment for sins committed might be considered just?

We understand, first, that sin isn't small. Scripture says, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies." (Psa 58:3) Sin starts at birth. We read further, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12) You can see that "none is righteous" and "no one does good" flies in the face of popular thinking, but if these accusations are accurate, sin isn't "a little white lie" or "a few transgressions." It is a way of life, an ongoing, minute-by-minute violation of God. Now, clearly this requires a realignment of our understanding of both "good" and "evil", but that is what the Bible is doing -- explaining that our perceptions of good and evil are too meager. When we are told, for instance, that "all have sinned", the very next phrase expands on the point: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) You see, "being bad" isn't in view here. Violating God is. Sin is a violation of God's Government, so to speak. He speaks, He commands, and we say, "Nope! Not gonna do it." We shake our fists in His face and say, "I will be like the Most High."

Now, remember, we've already seen that the magnitude of the crime determines the penalty. Jaywalking may be a small fine. Murder may require doing some time. What about treason? That's a capital crime as well. That's pretty big. So what about Cosmic Treason -- attempting to overthrow the God of the Universe? If a crime is against the Eternal God, it seem reasonable (equitable, fair, just) that the penalty would be eternal. It's not the time it takes to do the crime or the form it takes -- a lie or a murder or a Hitler. It's the One against whom it is done. The claim is that God would be unjust to eternally punish a "small time" sinner. This is simply a failure to grasp the magnitude of sin.

God is, by definition, just. That doesn't mean He conforms to some external standard laid on Him by ... oh, I don't know ... His creation. It means that He defines what is right. We could ask, "What is just?" and rightly answer, "Whatever God does." God says that He judges the wicked and we would assume that a just God would be just in doing so. Beyond that, it isn't irrational to consider an attempt to overthrow the God of the Universe a crime of the highest sort, deserving the highest sort of penalty. That is a balancing of the books. Interestingly, considering justice from this perspective only makes forgiveness, grace, and mercy that much bigger. It makes what Christ did at the cross -- fulfilling justice -- that much more phenomenal. Some people will surely complain that it's not fair that God would condemn a person who committed a single sin. Note, first, that no such sinner exists. Note, also, that any sin is a violation of the Eternal God, deserving eternal punishment. And we do them ... a lot. So any grace and mercy is bigger than we can imagine in view of the magnitude of the penalty we have incurred. God punishing sinners for an eternity is not unjust. It is right. God forgiving sinners is unjust, for which we can thank Christ who met the demands of justice on our behalf.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Grace is Amazing

We like grace. Mercy is good. Love is pleasant. And, of course, God is gracious, merciful, and love, so that's like ... a really big grace, mercy, and love, right? Oh, that we could see more clearly.

About a hundred years after Jonah's miraculous visit to Ninevah where Ninevah heard the warnings and repented, Nahum has a message for Ninevah. It's not good. They've forgotten God. It is a proclamation of doom. But look what Nahum says about God at the outset.
A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet. (Nah 1:2-3)
One might be tempted to ask, "Now, which is it? Is He jealous, avenging, and wrathful, or is He slow to anger?" And the answer from Nahum would be "Yes ... yes He is ... both."

We're really pleased with the loving, merciful, gracious God. This jealous, avenging, wrathful one isn't tops on our list. Nahum says, "Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire And the rocks are broken up by Him." (Nah 1:6) Not an image we find pleasant.

Now, anyone who is aware of my normal writing would say, "Now, hang on here, Stan. It's Sunday. Don't you usually write something uplifting here? Where are you going with this?" I'm going where Nahum goes. In the very next verse he writes, "The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him." (Nah 1:7)

You see, it would be a mistake to see God as only gracious, merciful, and loving. And it would be an equal mistake to see Him as only wrathful, jealous, and avenging. Both are true. Both are necessary.

Grace, you see, is only truly amazing when we see the wrath that His grace sets aside. Mercy is only great mercy when the penalty that we have justly earned is not applied is truly great. Only a look at the wrath and jealousy of God can give a full appreciation for God's amazing grace.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

News Weakly - 11/26/2016

Thank you for your service
Sgt John Perry was killed last week by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Because Sgt Perry accosted the bomber before he reached his target, Sgt Perry saved hundreds of lives. They reported that they found him shielding a woman when he died. In gratitude for this selfless service, passengers on a flight the family was taking to get to their son's funeral booed them because the air crew was trying to get them to their destination and asked the rest to wait while they deplaned first.

In an America that is no longer much concerned about the Constitution (think 1st and 2nd Amendment rights, electoral college, etc.) or even America as a community, this isn't very surprising. As one who served, I would like to thank Sgt Perry and his family for their service to this country and apologize for a nation that often forgets what protects their freedoms.

Meet the Press
Here's an excellent example of spin. NBC News chose to headline their story about Trump's Chief of Staff's Meet the Press interview as "Reince Priebus on Muslim Registry: 'Not Going to Rule Out Anything'." Muslim groups are ready to fight the upcoming Muslim ban. CNN is moaning about how it failed in the past and it's wrong, wrong, wrong. Everyone appears to be glossing over the fact that Priebus stated, "We're not going to have a registry based on a religion." He specified a ban on people "radicalized".

Without defending or attacking such a ban, I'd like to point out that the "press" who is intent on "informing the public" is not particularly intent on doing it fairly or evenly. Let's not let truth get in the way. Spin it. Because I'm not at all sure why there would be an outcry in America demanding that people whose singular intent is to kill and destroy as many Americans as possible be allowed into this country as a matter of rights. But let's not frame it that way.

The State of the Union or the Union of the State?
So they're pressing on. They've actually filed to have a referendum put on the 2018 ballot for California to secede from the union. They're calling it a "Calexit". When the South did it, there was war. When Texas did it more recently, there was ridicule. When Californians did it, they ignored it. (Some counties in California have begged to be made their own state, since California politics do not reflect their views.) But now it's a good idea. Trump was elected. That won't do. The most diverse melting pot state in the Union is "culturally different from the rest of the country". (Um ... yeah ... what did you expect? When I was in California we were proud of that.) And some media outlets insult California. Time to go.

So, ignoring the disunity of their own state and the union of the country, they want to take their marbles and go home. Stay tuned, boys and girls. This might get interesting. (I doubt it, but it might.)

History Repeats Itself
Remember how this went?

Democrats raise outcry against Trump, concerned that his inflammatory words could cause violence.

Democrat supporters hire people to cause violence at Trump rallies.

History repeats itself.

In debate Trump says he won't accept election results if he loses. Hillary supporters ridicule him.

In election, Trump wins. Hillary supporters won't accept the results of the election and demand a recount.

Very strange, indeed.

To Its Logical Conclusion
Okay, follow this through. The Bible says that humans have a problem. We "exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." (Rom 1:25) That is, we have a truth problem. The result of this truth problem is a failure to love the truth (2 Thess 2:10), a deceitful heart (Jer 17:9), a debased mind (Rom 1:28). We are blinded (2 Cor 4:4) and deluded (2 Thess 2:11). Following that, then, to its logical conclusion, we read that there is no such thing as a male body. The article assures us that we are "carelessly referring to women who are trans as having 'male genitals' or being 'born with a male body' or being 'anatomically male.' This language is both factually wrong and dangerous."

From their view, science is wrong, there is no male or female, and all you dopes out there that think so are "factually wrong" and dangerous. Welcome to the deceived heart, the debased mind, the blinded world.

Friday, November 25, 2016


It appears that we've shifted another word -- "hypocrisy". It is a popular accusation against many people with morals, Christians especially. But just what is it?

The word used to mean "a feigning to be what one is not : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue." The word comes from the Greek, hupokrisis, which was actually a theatrical term. It referred to the masks that actors wore when they played a part in a play. That's the idea: putting on a mask. Appearing to be what you are not. (Thus the "feigning" in the original definition.) Originally, then, a hypocrite was one who claimed to have virtue that he or she did not actually have.

It no longer means that. Current dictionaries hold that it means "behavior that does not agree with what someone claims to believe or feel", "the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform." There is a difference between the original definition and the current one. The original version allows someone to say, "This is right or wrong and I admit that I don't measure up" and they would not be classified as a hypocrite. The earlier definition would allow parents who did drugs as in their youth to tell their kids, "Don't do drugs. I did; it's a bad thing." The current definition would define that as hypocrisy. Today's version requires you to fully satisfy in your own behavior what you classify as right or wrong. Anyone who holds a standard of virtue but fails to meet it is a hypocrite. Or, to put it another way, all Christians are hypocrites by definition since we all agree with God's definition of right and wrong while we lean on Him for forgiveness of our admitted failure to conform to His standards.

Now tell me that's not by design.

Here's the problem. When a word means X and then, without really noticing, changes to Y, what do we do with our Bibles (for instance)? Using this word as an example, Jesus referred to the Pharisees as hypocrites. He meant that they were pretending to have virtue that they did not have. They laid requirements on others that they were unwilling to accept themselves and did not admit they did not meet (Matt 23:2-3; Matt 23:13-36; Luke 11:46). Consider, on the other hand, the father praying that Jesus would heal his son. Jesus told him that faith was required. He responded, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24) This is an admission. "Yes, the standard I must meet is belief. I don't meet it. Please help me to meet it." This man, in the biblical record, was not a hypocrite. All well and good ... until you read the new definition back into the Bible. Jesus used the term and meant that they didn't meet the standards they called for. In this scenario, Jesus would also call Paul a hypocrite for admitting that he sought to know more fully Christ but had not obtained it (Phil 3:7-12). James said, "We all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2) which, under today's definition, is a tacit admission that all of us are hypocrites. In the end, if you hold that a there is a standard of virtue, unless you arrive at perfection you are nothing more than a hypocrite because you are not perfect.

Don't fall for it. It is Satan's ploy to get you to stop pointing to God, to stop pointing to the problem of sin -- in your own life and in others -- to stop bringing the Gospel. It is Satan's grand, "I'm okay; you're okay." It is one of the father of lies' biggest lies. If you cannot meet a standard, do not agree with it. Because hypocrites are bad. And the glorious circle here is that declaring that hypocrites are bad is hypocritical if you have ever held a standard that you've failed to meet. Well played, Satan.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving, 2016

Psalm 100
A Psalm for Thanksgiving.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.
Serve the LORD with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the LORD Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the LORD is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.
While we give thanks today, let's remember to whom we are giving thanks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Paradigm Shift

Remember the story of Job? First, he suffered the loss of all he had -- his livestock, his servants, even his children. His response, while tearing his robe and shaving his head in anguish, was, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21) The author of Job says, "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong." (Job 1:22) Next, it became personal. Sitting in ashes, he scraped at the "loathsome sores" that covered him from head to toe (Job 2:7-8). His wife asked, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." (Job 2:9) Hear Job's response. "Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10)

We naturally and even rightly go to God for help. We ask Him to fix things, to sustain the good and put an end to the bad, to make things right, to rescue us in our troubles. All well and good, as we ought. Even Jesus did it in the garden. "Let this cup pass from Me," He prayed. But what is our response when God does the unexpected? What is our reaction when He allows the unpleasant to occur? What do we say when He does not do as we ask? I'd venture to guess that it's a rare one of us who says in that moment, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." We do not believe that we can receive evil from God and let alone that it would be right. God does not do the unpleasant. Furthermore, He would be morally unsound if He did. It would be wrong. At this point, some leave the faith. "If this is what God is like, I want nothing to do with Him." Others are sorely injured, wondering if they can trust Him again. Many are dismayed. How could God do such a thing? An extremely popular approach is to absolve God. "Well, you know, God didn't want that to happen, but ... Free Will ... you know. He couldn't do anything about it. Bad things happen. Bad people, bad circumstances, natural disasters, diseases ... all that stuff. God is not to blame." Lots of responses, but it is the extremely rare one that says, "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Note that Job didn't do it cheerfully. That would be insane. He tore his clothes and mourned the losses. He even struggled with his own pain. As the book of Job progresses, Job, faced by "friends" who assure him that the only reason he is enduring such great pains is because of his great sin, begins to ... get testy with God. "Let the Almighty answer me!" he cries (Job 31:35). No, it's not mindless glee we're seeing. But Job recognizes at the core of it all two truths -- that "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away" and "Blessed be the name of the Lord." Job agrees that we should expect both the pleasant and the unpleasant from God. No excuses for God. No recriminations. No moral outrage at God. No despair.

How do you get there from here? It requires a paradigm shift. A paradigm is the structure of a given discipline, the philosophical framework upon which the discipline is built. A paradigm shift would be a change in the underlying assumptions of that discipline. Getting from where we typically are to where Job was would require this kind of radical change -- a change of the basic principles, the underlying assumptions ... of life.

There is the shift from "I'm okay" to "I'm not." We call it the sin nature and most of us ignore it even though all of us have it. Instead, we assume people are innocent until proven guilty, so to speak. We assume "basically good" which is basically false.

There is the shift from "It's all about me" to "It's not." It's not about us. It's about God. But we can't seem to grasp that. Even when we think we do, we can't seem to hold it for very long at all.

There is the shift from "God owes me" to "He doesn't." Or, perhaps, the admission that "He owes me judgment." He doesn't owe us anything pleasant. I remember a recent discussion with a Christian where I pointed out the the doctrine of Election is biblical and it cannot be disputed. How we get chosen may be up for debate, but not that there is the elect. He said to me, "But, everyone gets the chance to be chosen, don't they?" Because, you see, God owes us. We have all thoroughly earned God's wrath, but we somehow think He must be gracious and merciful ... to all.

There is the shift from "I'm pretty important" to "God is Sovereign." A huge step. Because on one hand we don't wish to surrender control as sinful human beings and, on the other hand, with our sinful, self-centered, over-inflated sense of our importance, we feel the need to absolve God of any wrongdoing ... as if He was capable of wrongdoing.

There is the shift from "I know what's right and wrong" to "I don't." We find that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. We find that we are a people blinded by the god of this world. We find that He speaks truth and we're far more closely related to the father of lies. We judge Him by our own faulty standards as if we have that right or that capability. We miss that God is always good. This is a radical shift.

These are just several of the radical shifts in thinking -- in renewing our minds -- required to get us from "How dare God do that?!" to "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." How do we get from "God owes me" to "Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?" Clearly, since Job had that mindset, it is possible. The real question, then, is whether or not we want it. Perhaps we're perfectly happy in our sin-sick, deluded thinking.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

God Owes Me

It is not very often that I actually hear anyone, especially a Christian, voice the idea that "God owes me" something. It is, conversely, very rare that I find anyone who doesn't believe it's true. They believe that God owes them something or other even if they would never say it.

A non-Christian friend asked me the other day about a "theological dilemma" that was nagging at him. "Isn't it true," he asked me, "that the Bible has lots of places where God destroyed lots of people? You know, like Noah's Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah or the killing of the Amalekites. If it is true that we aren't supposed to kill and God does it, doesn't that make Him evil?" The root of this question is "God owes me." In this case, "God owes me life." The objection is similar when people complain about the concept of Hell -- eternal torment. "God owes me mercy at least." When someone loses a loved one it is "God owed me that loved one." When they get cancer or something dreadful, "God owes me good health." No, no one ever voices that. No one says it out loud. Almost no one. But it's there ... always there.

We tend to get things turned around in our thinking. We think that God owes us ... well ... a lot. Because we're just that valuable, just that important. After all, aren't we made in God's image?

What we fail to grasp is that we are His creation, not His masters. He owes nothing to the things He makes. Just in principle. But we've managed to make it worse. We have all sinned and transgressed the glory of God (Rom 3:23). We are not innocent bystanders. When Paul said we "fall short of the glory of God", he is saying we reflect poorly on our Maker. We diminish His glory.

It is assumed by so very many that Christ died to save us because He ought to have done it. We wrestle, in fact, with the notion that not all are saved. Paul wrestled with the opposite question. Not, "Why doesn't God save more if not everyone?" like so many of us, but "Why does God save one?" Paul understood us to be "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" and God rightly intending to show His power and wrath on us (Rom 9:22). That is what God owes us. The amazing thing is not that more are not saved, but that any are saved. Because God owes us nothing.

If we grasp this, then suddenly anything God gives is a gift, a glorious act of grace, a radical kindness. If we lose our sense of entitlement, we gain a vast sense of gratitude. But our sense of entitlement is the basic problem -- worshiping the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). That is what is at stake here. Should we cling tightly to our falsely perceived "rights" -- our confidence that "God owes me" -- or should we admit our guilt and our fallenness and our inflated sense of importance and our idolatry and throw ourselves on His mercy, on His Providence? One comes to damnation, the other to extreme gratitude. You make the call.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Carnal Christian

Perhaps you've heard of "anecdotal evidence". Anecdotal evidence is evidence from anecdotes. ("Thanks, Capt. Obvious.") It is informal evidence based on personal testimony. Generally speaking, due to its limited nature, its subjective nature (we all remember things and understand things through our own lenses, not necessarily with accuracy), and its casual nature, anecdotal evidence is viewed as limited in value. Then there's Scripture. This is God's "exhaled" Word. It is truth -- God's truth. Taken as a whole, it is generally quite clear, understandable, and useful. Given these two forms of evidence, I'd like to examine the concept of the carnal Christian.

The source of the "carnal Christian" term is primarily from the King James where Paul writes, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ." (1 Cor 3:1) Of course, this is simply an older English version of today's "flesh". Paul writes to the church at Corinth that they were still suffering from "the flesh", a term referring to the "old self", the worldly ways. He lists things like "jealousy and strife" (1 Cor 3:3). In Galatians he explains,
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21)
That's "the flesh" -- carnal.

So what do people mean by "carnal Christian"? Well, typically, they mean that the Spirit of God does not dwell in them. They are saved, but they have no outworking of the Spirit ... because they don't have the inworking of the Spirit. He's not there. They are spiritually alive, but with nothing to show for it.

We arrive here primarily by anecdotal evidence. We all know people who claim to be Christians but exhibit no signs of it or people who once seemed to be Christians but have since ceased. Therefore, we all know that the "carnal Christian" -- a saved-but-bereft-of-the-Spirit Christian -- is a real thing. We've seen it. But, just as both science and the courts would prefer not to rely solely on anecdotal evidence, I would urge us not to come to a position based purely on our observation. What does the Bible say?

According to Scripture, at the point of repentance, "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) This is the "indwelling". He comes to take residence in the believer. There is no suggestion that this is a "come and go" condition like it was in the Old Testament (e.g., 1 Sam 16:14). In fact, the Spirit is described for Christians as the "seal" of our inheritance (Eph 1:13). Paul says it is by the Holy Spirit that we "were sealed for the day of redemption." (Eph 4:30) Now, we can grieve the Spirit (Eph 4:30) and resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51) and quench the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19), but Scripture argues that His indwelling is permanent. Scripture speaks of being filled with the Spirit (literally, "be being filled with the Spirit", an ongoing thing) (Eph 5:18), but there is no hint anywhere that one who is born anew can be without the Holy Spirit entirely. He may be more or less under the influence of the Spirit, but not without Him. It isn't the difference between a growing Christian and a not-growing Christian. It is the difference between a genuine Christian and one who is not.

One text where this is unavoidable is in 1 John. There we read,
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9)
Now, the Bible has many uses of the word "seed" in reference to God's Word or the Gospel. It's in the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:3-8; Matt 13:19). In Peter's first epistle he refers to an imperishable seed by which we are born again, "the living and abiding word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). But the Word as seed is not the exclusive use for "seed". Paul refers to the believer's body as a seed (1 Cor 15:38) from which the glorified body is derived. As it turns out, scholars are not agreed on just what that "seed" is. But here is what we can clearly and unavoidably see. First, the reference is to those who are "born of God". The object of this verse is those people. Second, the one who is born of God does not make a practice of sinning. Not "might not" or "should not" -- does not. Third, regardless of what God's seed actually is, the verse clearly states that it is outside the power of the one born of God to "keep on sinning". "He cannot."

From Scripture, then, we know that the Holy Spirit is given at the new birth. We know that, unlike the Old Testament, there is no biblical argument that the Holy Spirit ever leaves again. There may be more influence or less, but there will be no absence. And we know that one who is born of God does not make a practice of sinning because he cannot make a practice of sinning. As such, it can only be concluded that the concept of the "carnal Christian" is a mistaken concept. Surely there are individuals who claim to be Christians but are not (1 John 2:18-20). Certainly there are genuine Christians who fall into sin (1 John 2:1), even grievous sin. But the idea of a genuine believer, born again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who simply fails to change at all ever -- while passing the anecdotal evidence test -- fails to pass the biblical test. It would suggest we need to reconsider our "carnal Christian" concept and, more to the point, our understanding of those we think are carnal Christians.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Greater is He

We live in troubling times. Rampant immorality, the rising power of evil, the increase of people killing people, growing rejection of God and His followers ... things look bleak. Add to that what looks like the decline of the church in modern times, and it all looks like a coming disaster. So, on this Sunday, I wanted to let you know. It's not.

John warned his readers "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God." (1 John 4:1) If you're paying attention, that's rather ominous. We're not looking at angry individuals or even antagonistic governments. These are supernatural forces that oppose us. Paul said "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Eph 6:12)

"Now, wait, Stan. Didn't you just say we're not looking at a coming disaster?"

Yes, indeed, I did. Oh, it may look like it and it may feel like it, but I wanted to remind you of the truth.

Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me." (Matt 28:18) Paul said, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31) And in that passage above where John warns about testing spirits, he assures us, "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4)

There are those who say, "Don't be such a ninny. There is no looming disaster!" They're not paying attention. There are those who say, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" They're ignoring the "rest of the story". I wanted you to see the balance. Things may look bleak, but "in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 8:37-39) We're in good hands.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

News Weakly - 11/19/2016

Not All News is Bad News
The media has been smirking about how you dirty, rotten right-wing Christians all voted for Trump ... you know ... the guy known for groping women and hating Mexicans (as in "not Christian values"). The New York Times tells us that more than 80% of Evangelicals voted for Trump. As it turns out, it ain't necessarily so. Turns out that with "a more nuanced analysis we can reasonably estimate that somewhere between 35 percent and 45 percent of all evangelicals in America voted for Trump."

Of interest, also, from the New York Times story is the category, "Best description of vote". Given "I strongly favor my candidate", "I like my candidate but with reservations", and "I dislike the other candidates", 51% of those who were polled said they disliked the other candidates. I think this is for both camps, of course. Many voted for whom they voted not because they wanted to, but because the alternative was appalling. From that perspective, it would appear that more people who voted for Trump did so because they were more appalled by the specter of a Clinton presidency than a Trump presidency. That is, of course, only one perspective.

Of course, what disturbs me is why the New York Times poll has an entire category of "White evangelical or white born-again Christians" at all. No "black evangelical" or any other race. No "white Catholic" or any other religion. There is a generalized category of "Religion" without reference to race. So why this particular category? Beats me.

The New Evangelical Woman
The event is the Belong Tour. Speakers include "remarkable communicators" like "Jen Hatmaker, Shauna Niequist, Nichole Nordeman, Sharon Irving, Angela Davis, Patsy Clairmont." It's all about The New Evangelical Woman, "part of a larger renovation and rejuvenation of old-fashioned ideas of evangelical Christianity." This "New Evangelical Woman" is "not defining herself apart from the secular world, but very much a part of it." They're the Xvangelicals.

And there it is. Don't miss it. They are calling themselves "Christians", "followers of Christ", but are self-consciously redefining what "followers of Christ" means into something ... else. It is not an "in the world but not of it" concept (1 John 2:15-17). It is not a "transformed, not conformed" idea (Rom 12:2). It is not defined by Scripture, but by culture. "There's hardly any quoting of Bible verses or even group prayer. Instead, talks are focused on how to let go of shame, or be real with one another and truly connect, or how to stop trying to be perfect." This is feel-good theology, to be sure, but not biblical theology. It is the New Evangelical ... minus the Good News (Gal 1:6-9).

Filed under "What did you expect?"
First, there were those asking Mark Zuckerberg if the fake news on Facebook swayed the election. Then Google and Facebook began to target fake news sites with plans to ban them from their networks. One fake news writer on Facebook claims "I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me." And the Oxford Dictionaries come out with the "Word of the Year" award for ... get this ... "post-truth", an expression that, like "post-modernism" and "post-World War II", indicates that we are after the truth -- beyond it, without it, no longer using it. "It is an adjective defined as 'relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.'"

Given a world, described by Paul as "always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 3:7), a world about which Jesus said, "men love the darkness rather than the light" (John 3:19), a world blinded by the god of this world and rejecting the Truth, a world that can no longer distinguish even between the fiction of books, television, and movies and reality, what did you expect? Certainly not a world that sees, recognizes, and embraces the truth. In a world tied most closely to the father of lies, it only stands to reason that "fake news" would be a big issue and "post-truth" would be a real thing.

Didn't see that coming
A 5-year academic study from the US and the UK has concluded that conservative churches that take the Bible seriously are growing in contrast to the liberal churches that do not and are declining. Despite the protests, it appears that doctrine matters and biblical truth grows churches rather than the expected opposite. Perhaps we ought to check our arsenals. Loaded with entertainment, fun, and "feel good", or with solid preaching, study, and application of the Word? A "new" church-growth paradigm.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Words Will Never Hurt Me

You know it, right? "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." Of course, in our world appalled at the realization that bullying takes place with our poor 8-year-olds online, we're no longer sure of that. The CDC has a report on the relationship between bullying and suicide, where the bullying in view is often mostly just words. reports that bullying is the third leading cause of suicide in young people. In October an 11-year-old cancer survivor killed herself because she was picked on at school. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can kill.

I know people. I know someone who will not wear white socks because someone somewhere told them, "You know, white socks make you look stupid." They don't remember who, but they won't wear them. I know someone who used to sing beautifully but won't anymore because someone told them, "You know, your voice isn't that good." One person I know played the piano, but when someone complained, "Do you have to make that noise?", they stopped playing entirely. One friend suffers internally to this day because when he was in college some girl told him, "No one wants to hear about your problems", so he doesn't tell anyone.

This stuff doesn't rise to the level of "bullying". We wouldn't think of those people as bullies. Maybe rude. Maybe even right. But not bullies. And I'm absolutely certain that not one of them thought their words went any farther than the moment, if that. None of them thought they'd have a lifelong impact on their hearers. But Jesus said, "It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man ... The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man." (Matt 15:11,18) It is not true that words don't hurt. Sometimes the damage is much worse than broken bones.

James wrote, "The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell." (James 3:6) He said, "We all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well." (James 3:2) He tells us, "No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way." (James 3:8-10) In the same way, Paul wrote, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Eph 4:29) Jesus said, "I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment." (Matt 12:36)

We've been told that words don't hurt. I don't think there's a person alive who actually believes that, either when they use words in an attack or when they hear it. We don't insult people because we don't think it will hurt, and those who have been on the receiving end don't agree that it doesn't hurt. Our words can have long-lasting, even lifetime effects. We are Christians. We ought to know better.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. (Psa 19:14)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Holier Than Thou

Jessica Harris is an author and speaker specializing in sexual addiction among women. In an article about women who struggle with porn (Yes, it's not just a guy thing.), she quotes emails from women crying for help. One says, "I want to get help, I want to tell someone, but anyone I tell will never look at me the same again."

Now, I get that. I understand. I sympathize ... or is it empathize? I really do. But what I want to know is how we got here?

The skeptics have long complained that "Christianity is only a crutch." I've never denied it. My Bible says that all have sinned, and that the wages of sin is death. A crutch? If "spiritually dead and headed for eternal torment" is a "broken leg", Christianity is indeed a crutch. But clearly much more. Because we are all badly broken. The Church is not a collection of holy people; it is a collection of people declared holy. We aren't self-righteous; our only righteousness is imputed by Christ. We aren't reformed; we are being sanctified. "Holier than thou" doesn't fit in a biblical worldview. We are all sinners saved by grace through faith in Christ. A crutch? Oh, no. We are much, much worse than "lame" and it's much, much more than a mere crutch.

So, given that the church is a gathering of broken people without righteousness of their own, predestined by God to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29), how is it that if one of us suffers from a condition of sin (as if there is one who does not) he or she can expect to be shunned for mentioning it, for reaching out for some help? How did we get here from there?

It is my suspicion that there is not a single genuine Christian out there that does not struggle with sin. No, I'll go one step further. If there is a self-identified Christian that does no struggle with sin, I would fell the need to urge him or her to reconsider whether or not they really know Jesus. James says, "We all stumble in many ways." (James 3:2) This is why we are commanded to bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2), to restore those caught in transgression (Gal 6:1).

Absolutely essential to supporting others is humility. Paul said in the midst of this "restore him" and "bear one another's burdens", "Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." (Gal 6:1) We're not better than one another. "For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself." (Gal 6:3) So Jesus said, "First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matt 7:5) I notice that Jesus did not say, "If there is a log in your own eye ...", but appears to indicate that it is there and you need to deal with it. That is, anyone wishing to bear the burden of another ought to already be in a burden-bearing position, in a position where others are helping to bear his or her burdens.

Absolutely essential to supporting others is love. Actually, Paul says that bearing one another's burdens is fulfilling "the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2). What is the law of Christ? "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." (John 13:34) Paul had already laid this out to the Galatians.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Gal 5:13-14)
We are to bear one another's burdens, then, specifically on the basis of love. The goal is not to make an bad person good. The aim is to gain your brother (Matt 18:15). It is genuine concern for a brother or sister in Christ. After all, aren't we defined by love for one another (John 13:35)?

We are told to "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." (Rom 12:15) I rejoice with those who have managed to find fellow believers that bear their burdens. I weep with those who cannot. And I wonder, given the fundamental nature of Christianity -- that we're all sinners saved by God's grace with a righteousness not our own and commanded to love one another and bear one another's burdens -- how it is that Christians find it more likely to be afraid to share their burdens with fellow Christians than to feel able to seek help. It seems like there is a sharp disconnect between what we are -- sinners saved by grace intended to love each other -- and what we think we are -- too good to have "those" kinds of problems.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Crazy Christians

She was having some deep emotional problems, so she sought counseling from the pastor. He, in turn, directed her to a Christian therapist trained to address such issues. So she went. The sessions went on for awhile, and then the therapist asked to see her husband. Alone with the husband, the therapist wanted to find out what kinds of emotional demands were being made at home. The husband explained things this way. "I don't really have a demand that my wife love me. I know that most people see marriage as a 50/50 proposition, but I don't. Since I am fully loved by God, I don't have to demand that my wife fulfill my need for love and I am free to love her fully. If she sees things the same, then she also is free to love me fully and we would have a 100/100 marriage. I depend on Christ to love me and it frees me to love her without demand and enjoy her love for me without reserve." The therapist was silent, stunned for a moment. Then, "That's ... crazy," she said.

The company was in trouble. Business was down and declining further. The management had shifted from a "people perspective" where their greatest asset was their workers to a "business perspective" where the bottom line was money and people didn't matter as much. The result, of course, was that the workers didn't care as much and production declined. Every year -- oddly right around Christmas time -- they had an annual layoff, so regular that employees anticipated and dreaded it. "Who's next?" Someone asked the Christian guy, "Aren't you worried about getting laid off?" He answered strangely. "Well, no, not really. You see, I don't work for them; I work for God. I figure if God wants me to have this job, they can't lay me off. And if God doesn't want me to have this job, they can't keep me. So why worry?" "Oh, man," was the reply, "that's nuts."

Paul stood in front of Festus and King Agrippa in his own defense. He told them his story, about how he sought to destroy the Christians and about how Christ met him on the road to Damascus and blinded him and spoke to him and about how he met the risen Savior there (Acts 26:1-23). Festus was not impressed. "While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, 'Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.'" (Acts 26:24)

If you are a follower of Christ, you will find yourself commanded to be crazy ... crazy in the eyes of the world. You will not focus your attention on yourself, but on God and others. You will not find ultimate truth in Science, but in God and His Word. You will not depend on Man and what he can do for you, but in God whom they cannot see. You will find peace in hardships and joy in trials. You will have a source of power they don't comprehend. You will be marked by love for the brethren and for others. It's crazy, but it's not wrong. If, on the other hand, you find you fit in nicely, I'd suggest you may be doing something wrong. You might want to check into that for your own benefit.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Effective, Fruitful Christian

In the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:5-8) Jesus tells us that the "good soil" "grew and yielded a hundredfold." (Luke 8:8) In John 15 Jesus spoke of being "the true vine" and told how the Father prunes the branches "that it may bear more fruit." (John 15:1-2) Clearly, "bearing fruit" is a necessary function of all true believers. With that concept in mind, then, it's interesting to read this from Peter.
For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8)
Now, if you are a Bible-believing, conscientious Christian, that ought to pique your interest. "Yes, I need to bear fruit and I want to bear fruit. What will keep me from being ineffective or unfruitful?" The answer, of course, comes from the preceding verses.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)
Now that's quite a list. And there are some interesting features. For instance, Peter writes that we should "make every effort to supplement your faith". Now, wait a minute! I thought the Christian life was supposed to be "rest". What's with this "work" thing? And, as it turns out, the "rest" aspect is only part of the Christian life. As it turns out, work is essential (Phil 2:12-13).

The list itself is interesting. Good pieces, most of which we should already be aware. We ought to be virtuous. We ought to be godly. That "steadfastness" there refers to patience, of which James writes, "And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:4) Love, of course, is the pinnacle. The list is also interesting because it is given as a "supplement" to your faith. Faith is good, but it's a starting point, not an end point. Genuine faith is supposed to produce a genuine change in character.

And notice that Peter says that these qualities should be yours and increasing. So we don't ever arrive. It is a constant work ("every effort") to build more faith, more virtue, more knowledge, etc.

If you think about it, the task seems daunting. That's a lot of work. This is where the initial phrase comes in: "For this very reason ..." You have to ask yourself, "For what reason?" Back another sentence.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
What an astounding claim! It is not that He will provide what is needed for life and godliness. It says He "has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness." How? "Through the knowledge of Him who Called us." Knowing Christ. In this knowledge -- this genuine personal relationship with Christ -- we are provided with "His precious and very great promises." (Go ahead. Take a minute to list them ... all. Oh, not enough time? Right! Precious and very great promises.) It says in that text that He makes us "partakers of the divine nature", in the sense that we are escaping "from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." That is, we don't become "little gods", but we do indeed take on the shape of Christ. We are adopted (John 1:12) and being "conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29). God is forming us into Christ's brothers. That form is the escape from the corruption caused by sinful desire.

So, His divine power has granted us all we need -- a done deal -- and our aim is to be like Christ. As such, we need to make every effort to add to faith in an ever increasing climb of godly character. In this work we avoid being ineffective and unfruitful.

There is, of course, an alternative.
For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:9)
Don't be that person.

It is God's call on every follower of Christ to become like Christ. Fortunately, while this occurs because we work at it, it occurs primarily because "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) It occurs because His divine power has already supplied what we need. It occurs because knowing Christ gives us His "precious and very great promises". It is in this work -- this lifelong supplementing of our faith -- that we become effective and fruitful Christians -- by our character.

Does your character reflect a personal relationship with Christ? Note that if it does not, your knowledge of Christ is classified as ineffective and unfruitful.