Monday, April 27, 2015

Be Encouraged

It doesn't take a crystal ball to see that our world is not revolving into greater morality, deeper Christianity, or an embrace of the good. For Christians who care, this can be rather discouraging. For Christians who love, it can be frightening.You may be a Christian man seeking a wife or a Christian woman seeking a husband with the constant, nagging fear that our society no longer supports biblical marriage and divorce (as in "don't divorce") and you wonder if you're going to find someone to walk with you into biblical marriage. You may have children or family or dear friends whose salvation you question. Worse, you may have a loved one who has walked away from it all and you see no hope of return given their departure and our world's support for it. Given the direction of our society toward anti-Christianity and toward immorality, given the growing departures of kids and loved ones from the faith, given the uncertainty caused by "tares among wheat", I would like to give you a note of encouragement.

Jesus was the one who gave Simon Bar-Jonah his more popular name, Peter. It means "rock". (And, since "Bar-Jonah" means "Son of John", Peter could be named Rock Johnson. But I digress.) When He named him Peter, He said this. "On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt 16:18) Two observations here. First, "gates" ("the gates of hell") are not an offensive weapon. Jesus intended to plunder hell[1]. Second, it was not Peter or Paul or anyone else who would build the church. Jesus said, "I will build My church."

The New Testament is full of warnings to do good, to persevere, to endure, to stand. We are unequivocally and unabashedly ordered to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" in a Bible that repeatedly tells us that we are saved by faith, not by works. When it comes to "This is your job" in the Bible, you will constantly find that our assignment is to work for Christ.

("Can we be honest here, Stan? This isn't exactly encouraging." Hold on. I'm not done.)

While the Bible is full of commands we are supposed to follow, there is another aspect that is equally prevalent in the pages of Scripture. There is our assignment--"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) And there is Someone else at work. Every reference to God's actions in the matter of salvation and preservation is that of sovereignty and success. We are saved by grace through faith, "for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10) We can be "sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil 1:6) While we work out our salvation, "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) (See also Jude 1:24-25; Rom 8:38-39; 1 John 3:9; John 10:28-29; Rom 11:29; Rom 8:30, and more.) Over and over and over again we see that God opens hearts (e.g. Acts 16:14), wakes the dead (e.g. Eph 2:4-7), sustains the weak (e.g. 2 Cor 12:9-10), and never loses (e.g. Rom 8:31-39). In every single case God succeeds.

Where, then, is the encouragement? It is in the sovereignty and success of God. He can raise the dead, open the heart's blind eyes, and remove a heart of stone and replace it with a living heart (Ezek 36:26). If He can keep you from sinning (Gen 20:6), He can guide loved ones through dark valleys, call the blind to Himself, and waken the spiritually dead. Scripture says, "After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." (1 Peter 5:10) The encouragement? It's not all up to you. You are not the success or failure of the enterprise. That's God. And not one single lamb that He wishes to rescue will fail to be rescued (John 6:39). You may not have much hope for your world and you may be concerned about loved ones and you may certainly be at a loss to know what to do about it all, but you can be quite sure that God always accomplishes what He intends, and that includes the salvation and preservation of His own, even if they are, at a time, within the "gates of hell". The author of Hebrews says, "Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." (Heb 12:3) And Paul repeatedly encouraged his readers to not grow weary of doing good (Gal 6:9; 2 Thess 3:13). We can do that (not grow weary) because of Him who endured hostility, because He never fails.
________
[1] This "gates of hell" reference is not to "the place where the damned live", but the abode of the opposition to Christ as opposed to the kingdom of God. It is the place that Satan and his followers, human and demonic, feel safe, protected, defended against God. Jesus here isn't saying, "I will walk into the place of the dead and snatch some from it" like some second chance. He is saying, "There is no place that the god of this world can safely hold his people from Me."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Gospel

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (Col 4:2-4)
I know. Long quote. But it's one sentence, so I didn't have a choice. In this sentence Paul asks the Colossian Christians to devote themselves to prayer. It should include thanksgiving as an attitude. But Paul's biggest concern was an open door for the word. Paul called it "the mystery of Christ" because the gospel is clearly that. And he asked them to pray "that I may make it clear." Imagine that. An Apostle devoting his life to the gospel asking them to pray that he might make it clear. Didn't he have the practice already? Didn't he already make it clear? Apparently that's not how it works. So here I am trying to make an attempt at a clear presentation of "the word", the "mystery of Christ", the gospel.

The term "the gospel" comes up in the New Testament. One of the first things Jesus did in His ministry was to preach the gospel. What was He preaching? "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) Well, in its simplest terms, folks, there you have it. That's "the gospel". Repent and believe. Done. Next!

Of course, that's not going to hack it. You'll need more than that. So we find Paul's very clear description in 1 Corinthians.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Cor 15:1-8)
That's it. It is the place to stand, the place to lay your trust, the place to hold fast. It has two primary components. First, Christ died. Second, Christ rose again. Not "sort of". Not figuratively. There were witnesses. Lots of them.

That's it. That's the simplest gospel. Christ died for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). He took our sins with Him (2 Cor 5:21). Christ rose leaving death behind (1 Cor 15:20-26). Indeed, "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." (1 Cor 11:26) Something to always keep in mind.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

I'm Just Asking

Yes, I know, I don't usually do two in a day, but I have to know. Now that Bruce Jenner has assured us that he is a woman, is our society going to be consistent?

Look, we "all know" that you're "born that way" and we "all know" that your gender may not be the same as your anatomy. So now we "know" that Bruce Jenner was born a woman in a man's body. He's always been that way, right? Because you're "born that way". I mean, he didn't turn female recently, did he?

So, are they going to be consistent? Are they going to strip him of his medals? He, a woman, competed in the men's decathlon. Are they taking those back? Are they cancelling out any women's records and substituting his? And how about the medical profession? First we had this woman named Thomas Beatie who claimed she was a man having babies and now we have Bruce Jenner claiming he's a woman who fathered multiple children. So are the medical books going to change about how men and women produce babies? Might as well. We've been "undefining" lots of things. Not redefining--undefining. Remove the existing definition and don't substitute a new one. We've undefined marriage and we've undefined female and male. Why not undefine the whole "birds and the bees" thing?

Look, I'm not passing judgment here. (I can do that when I'm by myself, right?) I'm just asking a couple of the obvious questions. I just want to know one thing. Not "Are they right?" but "Will they be consistent?" Because inconsistency suggests either a lack of belief in a position or an erroneous position ... or both.

For a Reason

When bad things happen--you know, unpleasant things, not necessarily immoral things--we often try to comfort people with "Everything happens for a reason." Regardless of your theology, we like to think that there is an overall purpose to things and events. In a theistic worldview, this is not a wish, but a certainty. But in today's more materialistic, humanistic, post-modern world, it's no longer very supportable.

In the "modern world" (as opposed to the "post-modern world"), the term, "modern", was intended to refer to "reason". Modernism was a philosophical view that held popularity from the late 19th century through the middle of the 20th century. It was the "age of reason", intended primarily to circumvent the earlier times of religion and mysticism. We didn't need God anymore; we had science. And with some clear thinking (instead of simple faith in a deity), we could bring about utopia. Well, at the end of the second World War, it was clear that this wasn't working. Enter the "Post-modern" era. Postmodernism denies definition. There is no overarching truth, no boundaries, no limits. It is "New Age" and "Mother Earth" and "can't we all just get along" philosophies. And we should be able to get along under this view ... because nothing is true, real, or defined in itself. Modernism believed in cause and effect; postmodernism believed in chance. Modernism preferred in-depth analysis; postmodernism sees no point. Modernism liked Natural Law; postmodernism tends pure moral relativism.

It seems obvious that a view that says "there is no truth" can't stand because it has just made a truth claim. It would seem clear that a view that argues "our view means there are no definitions" has just made a definition, a pure contradiction to the view. It would seem as if any thinking person would look at postmodernism, blink their eyes, and conclude, "How in the world could anyone hold to such nonsense?" But ... they don't. Instead, this nonsense rules our current culture.

We all used to believe (and, I think, still do, even if we don't admit it) that things have purpose. What there is, what we are, what we do, everything has a purpose. It isn't merely "there". Everything has an end, an aim. But today's postmodernism suggests otherwise. Things are nothing in themselves. They only have the value and purpose that we give them. And you may not give them the same that I do. I would contend that the Bible argues for the former while our current culture for the latter.

Take, for instance, marriage. Is marriage only of whatever value an individual places on it, or is there a natural, intrinsic purpose? We would say there is a built in purpose. Take sex. Is that whatever you make of it, or is there a natural purpose that we're ignoring?

I'm just using a couple of quick, quite obvious examples. When you think about it, though, a large chunk of today's society has decided that a large chunk of reality is purely relative in value. Does work have a purpose, or is it what you make it? Is money whatever you make of it, or does it have an aim, an end, a goal? When you go down this path, I think, you'll start to see that 1) the biblical view places purpose on everything while the world's view makes everything relative, and 2) the consequences of "no intrinsic purpose"--no natural reason--is almost always sin.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fat Shepherds

This is a striking passage in Ezekiel. It's addressed to "the shepherds of Israel", but I don't think it's very much of a stretch to read it with the New Testament "shepherd" concept in mind (Acts 20:28-31; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them."'" (Ezek 34:2-6)
The problem: shepherds who feed themselves rather than tend the flock.

The accusation: "You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock." Talk about "fleecing the flock". They clothe themselves with the wool of the flock. More, they fail to strengthen or heal or bind up or gather the scattered.

There is good news in this.
"'Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.' For thus says the Lord GOD, 'Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.'" (Ezek 34:10-12)
Yes, it's bad. The shepherds are failing the sheep. They're devouring their resources and giving nothing back in return. They're banking on the "Do not muzzle the ox" (1 Cor 9:9) line and living out the "wolves among the sheep" (Acts 20:29) line.

The Bible warns repeatedly that "from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them." (Acts 20:29-30) John warns that antichrists will come from "us" (1 John 2:18-20). Not a question. A certainty. Jesus warned, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come!" (Luke 17:1) So, three points.

First, it has come and will come and is here now. Fat shepherds feeding off the sheep rather than feeding them. They have nice, big churches and wear expensive clothes and drive expensive cars ... and their flock goes hungry, especially spiritually (Heb 5:11-14). Antichrists are among us, leading astray (1 Cor 11:3-4) and deceiving (1 John 2:26; Rom 16:18; Eph 5:6). "Among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Tim 3:6-7) Look for it Expect it. Be ready for it. And don't be deceived by it. The flock is scattered partly because of bad shepherds. Seek, instead, to be fed.

Second, for the shepherds, don't be that shepherd. God doesn't have warm thoughts toward or nice things to say about these shepherds. Don't be one of them.

Finally, for the flock, remember Who it is you can trust to take care of the sheep. Don't give up hope or faith because of the wolves and bad shepherds and antichrists among us. God will take care of them. And He'll tend to us.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Appeal to How I Feel

Forget about logic. Never mind about evidence. Don't bother with reasoning. It's all in the presentation. Or didn't you know that?

In a speech last Saturday the president told us, "There's no greater threat to our planet than climate change." Now, of course, there were no facts or evidence. And, really, I'm not sure we would reasonably expect there to be. No reasoning, either, and that's always a shame. No, here was his tactic. "The world's top climate scientists are warning us that changing climate already affects the air our kids breathe." Do you see how that works? It's not "the air we breathe". It's not "and here's how." It's "our kids". Because you might care about yourself, but who doesn't care about the children?!

Without even addressing the question of climate change, I'm just pointing out that this is the tactic of the day. Do not say, "Here's why marriage should be redefined and here's what it should be redefined to." Cry "Equality!" and "Freedom!" and "Love!" Don't explain why those who believe marriage should remain with its current definition are wrong. Point fingers and respond with, "Hater!" and "Anti-gay!" and "Homophobe!" and "Bigot!" Because a good ad hominem always trumps clear thinking.

Oh, don't think I'm pointing fingers at "those folk". "We" do it, too. We will use the "sodomite" label or the "evil" moniker. Sometimes we think "pagan" is helpful or just "immoral" is enough. And while any of it might potentially be accurate, we do it not as an explanation of the point, but as a pejorative, a disparaging remark without the force of reason or explanation.

It's not a very friendly place for people attempting to reason these days. The only good argument is a non-argument with an emotional epithet. I'm told that it's not good to tell your kids, "Do what I say because I said so," but that's what we're using today as our best approach. "You're wrong because I say you're a jerk." "Oh, yeah? So's your ol' man." Is that the best we can do?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Still Not Getting It

So, you've probably heard. Megan Huntsman, a Utah woman, pleaded guilty to six postpartum abortions. She did it, she said, to spare them from being raised by a meth-addict mother and inheriting their mother's problems. And this, apparently, is a crime.

It is a crime to kill babies in the womb according to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, unless, of course, the mother wants to. Because that makes sense. But if a woman with the same motivations as these pre-birth abortions kills her newborns, it is murder. And that makes sense ... how?

Look, I'm not making a call here. "This is right and that is wrong." I'm saying, "Make sense!" Because this doesn't. Never has. And in a society quickly and consciously distancing itself from the Lawgiver, it never will. Either human life has value or it does not. If it does, its location in the birth process does not matter. If it does not, murder does not matter. Of course, if chimpanzees are granted status of "legal persons" (and the unborn are not), then humans are not of particular value and you can all do as you please. If you're going to make this stuff up yourself, America, make a choice here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Swimming Upstream

You'd think it would be easy. We have one message--the Gospel. We have one story--Christ crucified. Every religion on the planet offers, "Be good and get to a better place," but we have something different to say. "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph 2:8-9) Wow! What a difference! What a message! No other religion offers a message like that. Clear. Straightforward. Simple.

So why is it that so many don't seem to get it? Talk to most people and they'll tell you that being a Christian is being good. "Murderers don't get to heaven," they'll tell you because everyone knows that sinners don't go to heaven but good people do. They'll hold up signs about gays going to Hell or they'll warn their friends that suicide is a one-way ticket to perdition. Talk to unbelievers and that's what they think. Talk to Christians and that's what a lot of them think. They'll affirm "saved by faith" on one hand and then assure you on the other that it's a matter of earning your salvation. Oh, my, no, they won't use those words. But that's what it boils down to.

After awhile I begin to realize that I'm swimming upstream against a powerful current. Both proponents and opponents are telling me that Christianity is just another morality code. I can sit down with someone, spell out the Gospel step by step, clearly and without equivocation, absolutely denying "saved by works" and holding firmly and constantly to "saved by faith", and they'll nod and tell me things like, "I'm trying." Trying? What does that mean? How do you try? You believe, or you do not. You place your confidence in Christ, or you do not. It isn't something that can be tried.

Now, of course, I get some of the confusion. In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46), Jesus tells of the nations gathered in judgment. There are two groups--the sheep and the goats. The sheep are those who cared about Christ by caring about people and the goats are those who ... did not. Sheep are welcomed into His presence, and goats are sent to eternal punishment. What is the difference between the two? One well-known Christian said it was "what they did or didn't do." And there you are ... a "saved by works" gospel. But I say that the difference between the sheep and the goats was that sheep are sheep and goats are goats. The sheep acted according to their character, and the goats according to theirs. Look, "sheep" is not defined as "a furry thing that is a sheep if it is well-behaved or a goat if it is not." That's not how it works.

So when you hear those well-meaning but confused folk who are trying to tell you, "Works have nothing to do with it," you can be sure that they're missing the message. The one born of God assaults sin in his or her life because we have the seed of God (1 John 3:9). We change because it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). Because we love Christ, we seek to obey His commandments (John 14:15). Faith produces works (James 2:20). So I get the confusion. There are works involved. Just not works for salvation.

Getting that across seems to be more difficult than I could imagine. The glorious good news of "Saved by grace through faith" seems to fall on deaf ears. The wonderful "It is God who is at work in you" seems to confuse rather than clarify. And I'm not sure what to do.

Jesus spoke of three kinds of people (Matt 11:15). There are, first, two types. Some have "ears" and some don't. Spiritual ears, of course. But of those who have "ears", some hear and some don't. Statistically, then, it's a rather small number who 1) have ears and 2) hear. Or, as Jesus put it, "The gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matt 7:14) So I want to be careful. I want to tell people--Christians and not--that we are not saved by works, but by grace through faith. And I need to remember that a large number won't hear it. No amount of wisdom, reason, logic, evidence, or cogent presentation is going to get that across. Blinded by the god of this world, they're just not going to see it. So I'll do my best to make it clear and count on the One who can wake the dead (Eph 2:4-7) to get it across when He plans to do so. Because most of the time I'm just swimming against the current.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Now This is Living!

The Bible tells us that the world is blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). Is it any wonder, then, that this world would turn out strategies for living that feel right, perhaps, but are, in fact, completely wrong?

Take, for instance, the whole "self-esteem" thing. Seems good, but as it turns out God describes us as "dead in sin" (Eph 2:1), "hostile to God" (Rom 8:7), and futile in speculation and darkened in heart (Rom 1:21). Well, now, that doesn't seem ... esteemable. (Okay, I made that word up. You know what I mean). Instead of "self-esteem" we are called to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Rom 12:3). James writes, "Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you." (James 4:9-10) Not quite "self-esteem", is it?

That's just an example. We are surrounded by many others. We know, for instance, that we all are seeking a "soul mate", but the Bible commands us to love regardless of our feelings. We are told to "follow your heart", but God says, "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9) Time and time again the wisdom of this world turns out to be in direct contradiction to God's Word.

One that is patently obvious and still patently wrong is this whole "live life to the fullest" thing. While it sounds wise, what we read in the Word is something different.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)

If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8:13)
It is impossible to lay "live life to the fullest" alongside "I die daily!" (1 Cor 15:31) and make sense of it. Because, you see, God's wisdom is not ours. As it turns out the abundant life that Jesus promised (John 10:10) starts with a cross (Luke 9:23). Yes, it is an abundant life. It just may not look like it from the world's standpoint.

Do you want a full, robust, abundant life? Well, of course you do. Who doesn't? That begins with dying to yourself and is maintained by dying to yourself and is the ultimate victory. But just try to explain that to the world.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Good News

Easter was just a couple of weeks ago. I have an admission to make. I'm not a big "go to church on Easter" fan. I mean, look, you know how that's going to go. "Invite your friends! Bring a crowd! We'll present the Gospel." Because, of course, Easter and Christmas are the two "big days" for churches and it only makes sense that you take your best shot at all these people who come in just once or twice a year. And, to tell you the truth, I've heard it already. I know the Gospel. You're not going to tell me something new.

But then I thought about it. Paul classified himself as "an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God" (Rom 1:1). He told the Corinthians, "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void." (1 Cor 1:17) I mean, seriously, Paul ... you couldn't at least use cleverness of speech? Just ... the gospel? Yes, just the gospel. Very clear. Very concise. "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." (1 Cor 2:2) Very simple. He gives his gospel presentation in the 15th chapter of his epistle to the church at Corinth.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Cor 15:1-8)
Not a lot there, is it? Christ crucified and resurrected. The gospel.

And I begin to realize that there is no such thing as "I know the Gospel" or "heard it too much." It is, as a matter of fact, our primary message (Mark 16:15). All that stuff about theology and doctrine, about the reliability of the Word and the Sovereignty of God and all that ... it's good stuff, sure, but it's all secondary. And when I start to lose interest in the Gospel because I think "I know the Gospel" or "I've heard it too much", then I am loosing myself from the fundamental moorings of Christianity.

It is embarrassing that so many Christians don't know the Gospel. They can't articulate it. That's sad. Because it was Christ's first concern. But equally sad is the Christian who find himself bored with it. Because it's was Christ's first concern, and because it's Good News. Kind of like the kid who says, "Disneyland is boring", which says more about the kid than the place. There is no better news than Christ crucified and resurrected. Indeed, that's why we meet every Sunday.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Not Getting It

Not connected but still confusing ...

Schrödinger's Cat

You may not have heard of the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment. Schrödinger was actually discussing a whole "atomic decay"/"quantum system" question, but it has decayed since then. Here's the idea.
A cat is placed in a steel box along with a Geiger counter, a vial of poison, a hammer, and a radioactive substance. When the radioactive substance decays, the Geiger detects it and triggers the hammer to release the poison, which subsequently kills the cat. The radioactive decay is a random process, and there is no way to predict when it will happen. Physicists say the atom exists in a state known as a superposition—both decayed and not decayed at the same time.

Until the box is opened, an observer doesn't know whether the cat is alive or dead—because the cat's fate is intrinsically tied to whether or not the atom has decayed and the cat would be living and dead ... in equal parts until it is observed.
That's the idea. Until you open the box, the cat is both alive and dead. The cat is not alive or dead until you open the box.

Mindless as that may seem, we seem to have arrived at Schrödinger's Gender when it comes to your kids. Until you "open the box" (find out what they feel), you can't know what gender they will be. No, checking their body parts will not do. Until they decide, they are both male and female. Or neither. Either or both will work.

Just as incoherent as Schrödinger's both-dead-and-alive cat.

Tragedy

This week a youth pastor, his wife, and their baby were killed when a large concrete slab fell on their pickup truck. "It's a tragic event," their pastor said. "In the blink of an eye, inhale and exhale, and they're in the presence of God."

I'm not getting it. What in the mind of a Christian pastor is the "tragic event" in passing from this life in a blink of an eye into the presence of God?

Killing? Bad. No, Good.

Ardent anti-theist Ricky Gervais tweeted a photo of hunter Rebecca Francis next to a giraffe she had shot in Africa. Facebook and Twitter have exploded with death threats for the hunter because, as we all know, it's wrong to kill a giraffe, but perfectly good to murder a person. We know that because there is no God and ... oh, wait ... [1]

Decapitalism

April 15th was both tax day and "Fight for 15" day on which "fast food workers walked off the job in 230 cities, staging the largest-ever strike in their movement aimed at a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union." This is because times have changed. Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. In America, now, we have some sort of new economic system where a country's trade and industry are controlled by workers for the primary function of providing a living wage. What? You think you need to go out of business because you can't pay them? Well, don't you dare! Dirty capitalist.

So much about this I don't get. I don't understand where the money is supposed to come from. It's not coming from the CEO's. Most of these places are franchises owned by small-time owners making enough to get by. They aren't paying a lot because they aren't making a lot. I don't understand when it became the function of all businesses to "provide a living wage" instead of earning money. I don't understand this theory of economics that says, "Money exists somewhere and I want my share" without any hint of where it will come from. So much I'm not getting.
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[1] Because, of course, the only means by which we can consider humans as more valuable than animals or either of any value at all is if we have a Creator who determines it. The materialism of the anti-theist offers no basis for such a valuation, either of the animal or the human.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Legacy

I enjoyed reading Ray Ortlund Jr's article, A Legacy Worth Leaving, about his father, Ray Ortlund. I had the privilege of being part of Ortlund Sr's church in my youth and appreciated his son's sharing. I even followed the link to an earlier piece on the same subject of his father's legacy from his son, Dane Ortlund. Good stuff.

Of course, as you might expect, it got me to thinking about my legacy. What am I leaving behind for my wife and children?

I'm not too concerned about "stuff". I don't think I'm doing them any great favors by leaving behind lots of "stuff". I tried not to endow them with a love of "stuff", so while that may be a common legacy people hope to leave behind, it's not mine. What then?

I have to start with the important matters. Oddly, it seems like we rarely start there. I want my legacy to be to pass on to my wife and children the important matters. The problem is that we tend to have faulty values here. We tend to think, "What's important to me?" rather than "What is important to God?" So when I boil this down--What legacy do I want to leave?--it has to be the question, "Are my values God's values?"

God's Number One value is pretty clear. "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31). (See also Matt 5:16; Rom 3:23; Eph 1:5-6; Eph 1:11-12; Eph 1:13-14; Psa 19:1; Rom 1:22-23; Rom 15:7; Phil 2:10-11; Rev 21:10-11; Heb 1:3 ... well you get the idea.) Everything is about His glory. Nothing is as important as the manifestation and magnification of His glory. So ... is that true for me? Is that what I believe? Is that what I think? Is that how I act? How I live? Is that what others will say about me? "He lived to the glory of God."

Our number one calling in this "glory of God" plan is to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt 28:19-20) Pretty simple. Pretty straightforward. Make disciples (not merely converts), baptizing and teaching them. The "Great Commission." Does that describe my life? Is that what I live to do? Do people see that in me?

We have one law: love. It starts with loving God and flows naturally to loving our neighbor. "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matt 22:37-40) Do these characterize my life? Do people say of me, "He sure loves God and his neighbor"?

I also have some specific callings. For instance, wives are not, but husbands are called to "love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." (Eph 5:25-27) Seriously? Is my life with my wife characterized by this supremely sacrificial love and by the cleansing of the washing of water with the Word? It's not a complicated command, not a difficult to understand instruction. Does it characterize my relationship with my wife? Am I teaching my grown kids by my example that this is how a husband should be?

I don't know about you, but these examples aren't helping me much. I am not in the least satisfied with the legacy I'm leaving. I do not devote enough attention to the glory of God, sufficient effort in making disciples, not even remotely enough time loving God or those around me, or enough of my life to loving my wife. And I'm just standing at four examples of what God wants me to leave behind. Seems as if I should be working a lot harder at this, doesn't it? I think so.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Transgender

Last week President Obama came out of the closet against 'conversion therapy' in a statement supporting "Leelah's Law". The law is the product of a White House petition started to "ban the practice known as ‘conversion therapy’ and name the bill in honor of Leelah Alcorn."

You may not remember "Leelah Alcorn". Joshua Alcorn was the teenager who identified himself as a girl (calling himself "Leelah"). Raised in a "conservative Christian household", he told his parents at the age of 14 that he was a girl and was denied the request to undergo transition. His parents sent him to "conversion therapy" in order to try to "fix" him. Instead, he stepped onto a busy highway and died. His suicide note ended with "My death needs to mean something ... Fix society. Please." The "fix" is to ban "conversion therapy", to normalize abnormality, and to put an end to anyone who thinks otherwise ... by force of law.

I am not writing this in support of "conversion therapy". As I've said before, I don't believe Christianity is about converting homosexuals to heterosexuals. It's not about moral health or mental health. It's about making dead people into living people. And Christianity isn't about being moral. That's a product, not an aim. And it is only accomplished by "God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure", so trying to make bad people into good people before coming to Christ is not part of the scheme.

I'm writing this because I'm wondering if genuine, Bible-believing Christians have thought this through. We are being told--mandated--to drop our beliefs in the sanctity of marriage, in the morality of sex within marriage, and now in our argument that transgender is wrong. Are you ready for this? Are churches ready for this? Here's what I'm asking. Have you thought this through?

Here, let me give you some things to examine. There are, for instance, those who argue, "Transgender is a sin." Why? What is your Scriptural basis? Figure that out[1]. There are those who say, "God doesn't make mistakes." So what does that mean? Based on that perspective, it's wrong to change genders (no one can change sexes[2]), but is it not, then, just as wrong to change hair color or other physical conditions? (Note: I'm not saying it is or isn't. I'm asking you to think it through.) There are those who argue that "we need to make our churches places where transgender people feel comfortable being among us." Based on what? Should we? This whole "transgender" thing hangs on other issues as well. Are the genders "equal", or are they simply "of equal value"? One answer gives you egalitarianism in which there is no distinction in genders and the other gives you complementarianism where the differences in genders complement (not compliment) each other. If you're of the opinion that there is no distinction in genders, then you have very little to stand on regarding the transgender issue (and, in fact, you'll likely see it as a non-issue). It comes down to a whole "Are men men and are women women, or are there important, God-given distinctions?" and "What are they?" and, more importantly, why do you say so?

Biblical Christianity has been steamrolled on the whole "homosexual" to "gay marriage" thing. Transgender is simply the next big thing. And if you haven't thought it through, you'll likely get overrun ... again. We don't want to be left standing around saying "Ew, that's nasty" without any substantive reasons, biblical or otherwise. I'm not suggesting it will make a difference. I'm just saying that you need to be ready. Our churches need to be ready. The wave is upon us.
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[1] Scripture for consideration:
The problem of the human heart: Jer 17:9; Rom 1:21,28; Rom 12:2
The question of gender: Gen 1:27;Deut 22:5; Psa 139:13-16; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 14:40

[2] Remember, "sex" refers to the physical conditions--"XX" or "XY" chromosomes, bone structure, and other physical distinctives between man and woman--and "gender" refers to "masculine" and "feminine"--those traits and characteristics associated with male and female.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Just Like Every Other

Why, do you suppose, people are so anxious to tell me what I do and don't believe?

"You worship an evil deity." Very popular from more than one direction. The atheist likes to throw that one out because God hasn't cancelled out all bad things. But the anti-Reformed folk will also throw it at me because I believe in a Sovereign God. The problem with the accusation is two-fold. First, it's not true. Second, there is no possible response. Why? Because the only response is "God" and that won't due. I say God by definition is good, and they've already labeled Him "evil", so it's pointless. I say that whatever God does is good, and they've already labeled Him "evil", so it's pointless. I say that humans are by nature sinful and wouldn't know a good God if He sent His Son to die for them, and they've already labeled Him "evil", so it's pointless. But the truth is it's not true--neither from the anti-theist position or the anti-Sovereign position.

"You don't believe the Bible teaches you what you should do. I mean, you don't abide by haircut and slavery rules, do you?" Again, actual accusations. Again, completely amiss. I've explained what I think about the biblical teaching on haircuts (and how it doesn't mean "God commands you to cut your hair a certain way") and I've explained how I understand biblical teaching on slavery (as in "not the same thing"). This is not to say "The Bible is wrong on these points" because I don't believe it is and this is not to say "But we've figured out a better way" because I don't believe we have. I'm saying that it doesn't say what they say it says when you read the text in context. My rule, then, is to follow what it says. So I do believe the Bible teaches me what to do and that doesn't include the necessity of keeping slaves or not cutting the corners of my hair.

"You are anti-women!" Really? This is most often, amazingly enough, from those who are intent on making women more like men in their drive to make us all "equal". It is the error of equivocation, confusing "equality" with "equal in value", "equal in substance", and "the same". So I'm "anti-women" because I believe the Scriptures teach me that women should be honored, respected as joint heirs (1 Peter 3:7), loved sacrificially (Eph 5:28). Seems problematic to me.

"You Christians believe that gays should get the death penalty!" Yes, I've actually heard that. No, I don't actually believe it. I would suppose that there are people out there--even people who call themselves "Christians"--who would argue that they should. I don't. I don't see a biblical demand for it. (The commands for that were to the nation of Israel when it was a theocracy, not to believers in general whenever and wherever they happen to be.) So, they tell me I believe that and I certainly do not.

"You are anti-gay." Well, now, that one takes some examination, doesn't it? Am I opposed to people with desires for sexual relations with the same gender? And that would require further examination. What do you mean by "opposed"? I don't find in my Bible anywhere that tells me that I need to regulate the sins of humanity. I'm not supposed to participate, and I'm certainly supposed to make them aware that they have a sin problem and the answer is in Christ, but nothing at all about stopping anyone from their sinful practices ... whatever they may be. So in what sense am I "opposed"? I think it's a sin. That's it. Those who act on those desires are committing a sin in the same way that I commit a sin when I act on my sinful desires ... to which I'm opposed as well and in the same way. "Well," they will counter, "you're opposed to gay marriage! That's anti-gay." Again, I think you're mistaken. I'm in favor of gay marriage. I'm opposed to gay mirage. That is, "marriage" has a meaning and "two people of the same gender who love each other" doesn't fall inside that definition. If you are a person who experiences same-sex attraction and wish to marry someone of the opposite sex (because "opposite sex" is part of the definition of "marry"), I'm all for it. "Well, you discriminate based on being gay." In what sense? I "discriminate" between red and blue. "Discriminate" means to differentiate. I differentiate between sexual sin (sex outside of marriage) and moral sexual relations (sex inside of marriage). I don't "discriminate" in the sense of making unjust treatment of people based on their sin.

And so it goes. There are so many bad examples of "Christian" out there. There is the entirely non-Christian Westboro Baptist folks who make unbiblical claims with unbiblical approaches calling themselves "Christians" and I get saddled with their error which I abhor. There are books from "good Christians" that assure us that if we are good enough, we can get to heaven which I find in absolute contradiction to the Scriptures and yet I get to wear that error because I'm a Christian. There are folks labeling themselves "Christian" who call for executing homosexuals and folks labeling themselves "Christian" who call for the end to "all this foolishness about biblical infallibility", and that, too, gets laid to my account. None of this falls in my understanding of what "Christian" means or entails.

So, do yourself a favor. Don't assume that because I'm "American" I'm like every other American you've ever met. Don't assume that because I'm a man, I'm just like every other man you've ever known. Don't assume that because I'm a Christian or a Calvinist or religious at all, I'm just like every one of those you've ever known. I think you'll find distinctives that don't match your stereotypes. If you want to know what I believe, find out, don't assume. I suspect you might be surprised more often than you might have thought. At least, that what people who have been courteous enough to do so have told me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Owned

God told Moses, "All the earth is mine." (Exo 19:5) God says, "Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are Mine." (Psa 50:10-12) Paul says, "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen." (Rom 11:36) God starts to sound like a kid who hasn't learned to share ... except that it is all His. A fundamental difference.

Authority seems to be a problem with us. It's largely us Americans, of course, beginning with "No sovereign" back in the Revolutionary War, receiving a huge boost in the "question authority" crowd of the '60's, and continuing to this extreme version today. We just don't like authority. But ownership is something else. We despise that concept. I remember being in a Sunday School class reading the very first verse in Philippians where Paul refers to himself and Timothy as "slaves of Jesus Christ". Members of this class--good Christians, one and all--looked up and said, "We're not slaves." Because "slave" suggests "ownership" and if there is anything we are it's free. But God says, "All the earth is mine." How do we fit these together?

Well, we don't. The simple truth is we are all slaves. We might be slaves to righteousness or slaves to sin (Rom 6:16), but we're all slaves. And the truth is that we're all owned. That is offensive to people in general and Americans in particular, but that doesn't make it any less true. "The world and its fullness are Mine."

The thing is if you get this into your head and realize that it's true and right (Doesn't the Creator have the rights to ownership?), it answers some very sticky questions. Like, "How could God allow unpleasant things to happen to people?" Well, He's the owner. He can do with His property what He pleases. Or, "Why does God save some and not others?" Same answer. "How could God create billions of people whom He knows will be going to Hell?" Same answer. But Paul says, "Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?" (Rom 9:20-21) Don't gloss over the question. Does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

No, of course we don't like that. We are, after all, prone to serve the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). Defy His authority? You bet. Kick against His ownership? Absolutely! Because "I will be like the Most High." Not a wise position to take. If we are truly His followers, we would rejoice in the notion that "From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever." Do you?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Diversity

The organization for which I work recently asked its large number of workers to fill out a diversity survey. You know, "How are we doing on this whole 'diversity' thing?" Because they are deeply concerned about it. so concerned are they that the multiple choice options for "gender" had four choices. (I had to look up "genderqueer" to even know what that was.) You see, they're that diverse.

Amongst all the normal stuff was a normal question you might expect. "Do you feel safe expressing your views that might not align with the rest of the group?" I had to answer "No". Wouldn't you? Because, you see, while the current climate requests, seeks, clamors for, demands "diversity", they don't actually mean it.

Evidence Memories Pizza. Have you heard of them? That's the Indiana pizza parlor who expressed their diverse view that if they were asked to cater a gay wedding, they'd have to refuse ... and they had to close their doors from the death threats. A high school girl's golf coach was suspended for tweeting "Who's going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me?" Because, of course, this is what tolerance and a love of diversity brings us. One party says, "I'm sorry, I can't do that" and the other says, "We'll burn you to the ground!" and the first one is the hateful one.

This sexual revolution that has engulfed us started back in the 1960's. The "Love" generation, you know. "Make love, not war," they said. So today they wish to make war ... in the name of "love". They demand tolerance ... by refusing it. "You can't tolerate intolerance," they'll counter, but the owners of the pizza place weren't being intolerant. They weren't saying, "You can't have sex with whomever you please" or even "You can't pretend to marry whomever you please", but merely, "I can't participate." That, my friends, is tolerance. "You may; I cannot." That is diversity. "We're different; just let me be different."

The truth is that it is not safe in today's environment to express a moral opinion against the prevailing sexual market. It'll get you death threats or fired or ... lots of options, none of them good. All in the name of diversity ... a diversity that is willing to forcibly remove the diverse.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

From Uncle Tom

Have you ever read Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin? I just finished it myself. It was written back in 1852 as an anti-slavery story. The title character was a slave named, of course, Tom. And it seems as if many of our nasty stereotypes came from this book.

The book has been panned by more recent critics. It is riddled, of course, with the "N" word because, as it turns out, the word used to be used regularly and in polite company as it is today among the African American community in use about each other. Offensive. But the worst thing was Uncle Tom. Tom was a strange character. There was George and Eliza--abused, runaway slaves heading to Canada for freedom. There was Cassy and Emmeline--abused, runaway slaves heading north to freedom. There were cruel slave characters abusing fellow slaves. But then there was Tom. Tom was a devout Christian. He believed, of all things, that God was looking out for him, so he bore up under the trials and difficulties. He always tried to do the best he could for his owners and their families and their slaves. Even under the stereotyplical "ultimate evil", Simon Legree who ended up beating Tom to death, Tom did what was right, relying on God to sustain him. It was this character that modern critics didn't like because he was too kind, too willing to serve, too obsequious.

By today's standards, Tom was too servile. He allowed his owner to beat him to death in order to stand for what was right. To me Tom was one of the most heroic characters you'll ever find. That's not because he was submissive. It's because Tom so trusted his Savior. To Tom, knowing Christ was everything. When Tom considered his very real hardships in comparison to Christ on the cross, his were minor. When Tom asked, "Why does God allow me to suffer like this?", he found his simple answer in "He allowed His own Son to suffer worse." When Tom was weak, he found that God's grace was sufficient (2 Cor 12:9). Tom dies in the end, but as he dies he exults in the opportunity to be with his Savior in glory.

I get that we don't live in that world anymore. God is not in vogue. Trusting in Christ is not in fashion. Turning the other cheek, serving others, considering others as more important than oneself (Phil 2:3), these characteristics aren't at all popular, even admirable. So Christians often join the world in their push to "get what's mine", to "demand my rights", to avoid being wronged. I would suggest, however, that the Uncle Tom character more epitomizes Christ and His disciples than the common current Christian in America.

I want to be more like Tom. In the way that Tom imitated Christ, I want to be like Tom. Most of all, I want the confidence in my Savior that gives a supernatural stand in the face of tyranny and persecution. I want to forgive those who despitefully use me and serve those in my vicinity, all empowered by God who is at work in me (Phil 2:13). Because the God I serve is love and power and perfection. Shouldn't I live like it?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Biblical Divorce

When we come to the question of divorce, many Christians rightly want to ask about biblical divorce. You see, many Christians understand that the Bible is the book that tells us what is right and good in God's eyes, and we understand that the world is often mistaken on these matters. So it isn't a surprise when the world says, "For any cause at all" and the Bible disagrees. It isn't a shock to learn that the world holds marriage in low regard when God holds it in high regard. I would think that any careful Christian would want to know what the biblical reasons for divorce would be.

Generally, when the question is asked, it is because "I'm in a bad place and want to find out if there is relief available." I mean, generally speaking, a believer in a happy marriage doesn't much care about "biblical divorce" because divorce is pointless. So generally speaking the question is more pointed: "Under what circumstances does the Bible allow me (or someone I care about) to get a divorce?" It is a potentially near-future possibility--an option--and we just want to examine the requirements of this option. So that's the question I'm looking to answer.

This was the question the Pharisees asked Jesus.
And Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" (Matt 19:3)
Simple question. Is there any cause for which it is lawful to divorce a wife? Jesus doesn't equivocate. He doesn't hem and haw. He makes an absolutely clear, unequivocal answer.
He answered, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matt 19:4-6)
Okay, so let's examine that. Let's see ... looking, looking ... nope! No grounds for divorce. At all. Zero. Jesus's answer was plain. "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." Next!

For those of you seeking to find biblical grounds for divorce your spouse, you're done. Jesus said the two were now one. Jesus said God put them together. If you're interested in following Christ, the answer is "none". There are no biblical grounds for divorce for those who wish to follow God's instructions on the matter.

"Oh, now, come on!" you're likely to respond. "You've stopped short. You've missed the 'exception clause'. You're not done!"

Oh, have I? Well, let's see.
They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matt 19:7-9)
First, He gave His answer. They responded (remember, they were testing Him, not seeking God's thoughts in the matter) with the objection. Second, Jesus said that divorce was always a product of a hard heart. Third, the "exception clause" is not an exception for divorce, but for remarriage.

This, as it turns out, is consistent with the other "biblical grounds for divorce" so often cited on the question. "Hey," you're going to say, "what about Paul's 'desertion' exception?"
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. (1 Cor 7:10-15)
The charge here to the Christian spouse is "should not separate". Oh, wait, that's not what you were expecting, was it? You were thinking this was an exception to the "no divorce" concept, weren't you? But isn't that what Paul says here. If you are a Christian, you should not separate from your spouse. If you do, either remain unmarried or reconcile. But it is best to remain with your spouse. The "exception" offered here is if the unbelieving (note that stipulation--unbelieving) spouse leaves you're not bound to the marriage. But, again, that has to do not with biblical reasons for divorce but for remarriage (1 Cor 7:27-28).

We weren't looking for biblical reasons for remarriage, were we? We were looking for God's Word on what constitutes good reason to divorce your spouse. The answer from both Christ and Paul is "none". The best you get from Christ is "hard-heartedness" and the recommendation from Paul is "be reconciled". Your first and best option, then, from Scripture is never get a divorce (Mal 2:19).

Do you find yourself divorced? That's a different question. Did you already make that step and get a divorce? That's not the same question. Are you thinking of remarrying or are you already remarried? Still not the same question. For any Christian who is married to a spouse, saved or unsaved, the biblical recommendation--you know, the recommendation from the lips of Christ and the rest of God's Word--is to remain married. I don't suppose that will be a warm idea to a lot of Christians. It should be, though, if your primary concern is doing what God wants. I would think that doing what God wants would be a better plan. If your question is "I'm in a bad place and want to find out if there is relief available," there is. Rest in the arms of Christ, for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil 2:13).

Postscript
I've "hidden" this on a Saturday post because I'm pretty sure lots of people won't like it. We'll see if anyone notices.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A World Without a Lawgiver

I'm sorry. I just don't know how to process this.

A judge in California reduced a potential 25-year sentence to 10 years of a man who sodomized a 3-year-old because the judge claimed he had no violent intentions. "While the crime was 'serious and despicable,'" the O.C. Register account says the judge claimed, "it does not compare to a situation where a pedophile preys on an innocent child." The judge argued, "There was no violence or callous disregard for (the victim's) well-being." To put this poor misguided soul in jail for 25 years would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

This is what it looks like when words have no more meaning. When sodomizing a 3-year-old "does not compare to a situation where a pedophile preys on an innocent child" or constitute "violence or callous disregard" for the victim's well-being, we can clearly discard our dictionaries for some fluid system of defining terms that changes moment to moment. Worse, welcome to the world where "How I feel" determines right and wrong and "harm" is loosely (because "harm" is loosely defined) used to define morals. This is what a world looks like when we define our own morality.

The Bible is Not a Book of Rules

The conflict never ends. Is the Bible a rulebook for life, or is it not? Let me introduce you to a term from the "logical fallacy" playbook--the false dichotomy.

A false dichotomy occurs when you offer two possible answers to a question when there is more than two possible answers. A false dichotomy gives the impression that there are two opposite options that are mutually exclusive and that at least one of them is true, meaning that these options represent all of the possible options. The question above is just such a dichotomy.

Is the Bible a rulebook for life? Yes, yes, it is. It cannot be doubted. It is the source of all of our recognized mutual values. It's wrong to murder. Stealing is wrong. Everyone recognizes the value of doing the good to others that you would have done to yourself. And so it goes. It clearly and indisputably contains God's statements on what pleases and angers Him in human behavior. It is a book of rules.

So, the Bible is a rulebook for life? No, no, it's not. ("Oh, great," you're likely thinking, "we've got a madman behind the keyboard." Give me a minute.) While the Bible is full of what God wants and doesn't want from us, the Bible is equally clear that without exception we fail to supply that. We don't meet the standard. We don't follow the rules. We are not going to make it. The Bible is not vague when it says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) and "The wages of sin is death." (Rom 6:23) The Bible as a rulebook doesn't work. Instead, we are "justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Rom 3:28).

Okay, so it is not a rulebook for life? Well, perhaps you can begin to see the dilemma. The answer is "Yes" and "No." We have a problem. We don't measure up to God's standard. We need a rulebook to see that. We have good news. We are not saved by works but by faith. A rulebook is beside the point. But this isn't the end of the story.

We've arrived in the examination at "saved by faith". What now? James points out quite strongly that "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:17) "Faith apart from works is dead." (James 2:26) Okay, great. We decided that the rulebook condemned us, but we are saved by faith. On this side of faith, then, we find that living, effective, functional faith requires good works. Are we back at a rulebook then? Not quite.

When the lawyer asked Jesus the great commandment, He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matt 22:37-40) So, no, we don't need a rulebook. Love God and love your neighbor. Every commandment given hinges on these two commands, boiled down to one word--love.

Oh, good! Then we don't need a rulebook. Well, hold on. You see, we have a problem. Sin rots the brain (Rom 1:21). We have deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9). So we although love is the answer to the question of doing what God wants, we have a hard time figuring out what that looks like. So we're back to a source book. It's God's source book, so it's right. It's not a rulebook as in "Do this and live" because we already know we can't and won't, so it's not that kind of rulebook. But if you want to love God and are (rightly) concerned that you might be mistaken on just how that might look, God's Word would be a good place to look for direction on that. And if you are grateful to Him for saving you from certain eternal death and wish to love your neighbor because that would please God, God's Word would be a great place to see what that looks like. Because one thing is abundantly clear among humans. Our ways are not His ways (Isa 55:8-9), and a world of people who, in their natural state, hate God (Rom 8:7) are not very likely to have an accurate notion of just how to please that same God.

Is the Bible a rulebook? Yes, no, both, and neither. First and foremost, the Bible is God's Word. That means that the primary point is God. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. It's not "morality" or "all about us" or any thing less than about God. However, being about God, it tells us what we need to know to live in relation to Him. It tells us where we ought to go and it tells us where we've run off the track. It tells us how to get right and it tells us how to keep right. Oh, wait! Isn't that just what it says? "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) Yeah, I thought I'd heard that somewhere else.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

I used to admire our justice system. You know, "Truth, justice, and the American way." We had standards about "innocent until proven guilty", placing the burden of proof on the accuser, not the defender. There were requirements that the accused be defended and rules about how that was accomplished and rules about what evidence could be used, what constituted evidence, and how that evidence could be obtained. Illegal search and seizure laws. Some sense of privacy rights. All this good stuff. So we had some sense that if the court ruled, it ruled justly. Not anymore.

I don't believe it is any longer about truth or justice. It's about power. It's about winning. The prosecutor is willing to fudge or hide facts in order to obtain a conviction. The defense attorney has no problem lying about the case, arguing against the truth, or blocking evidence to win a client's freedom. Like the Pharisees when they were asked by Jesus whether John's baptism was from God or not, they aren't asking "What is true?" or "What is just?" but "How do I win?" By this approach it is possible (has been documented to occur) that a known innocent can get convicted or a known criminal can be set free. Technicalities trump truth and justice. So an Al Capone guilty of massive atrocities goes to jail for tax evasion and a known murderer can be set free on a procedural error.

This, however, is not about the court system in America. Fixing that is beyond me. What this is about is the mirror that the court is to our society. Look, here's how it's supposed to work. We seek and find the truth. The truth provides the guidelines for justice. You see, "justice" is simply "that which is right", so in order to have justice, you have to know what is right – truth. And that, at least in theory, is supposed to be "the American way". Only, as the current court system illustrates, "what is right" is beside the point in America. What is the point in America is who has the power.

The whole religious freedom debate illustrates the problem. One side says, "You're making room for discrimination based on who I want to have sex with." I don't know who is arguing for that kind of discrimination. What I do know is that the loudest (and richest) voices are arguing against religious freedom. In a country where a president could give a Christmas Eve address that calls Americans to turn to Christ to today's version where sexual immorality is "out of the closet", a bestseller, even a popular movie, you'd better be a "closet Christian" if you plan to go unmolested. We aren't interested in truth or justice. We're interested in the power and freedom to do what we want and not you – not even God – has anything to say about it.

Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32) That truth, of course, was the truth of His Word (John 8:31), but the fact remains. Truth sets you free. We've opted for something other, something less. Power. Pleasure. Personal desires. Never mind that God says these things won't satisfy. Never mind that sexual sins, for instance, are sins against our own bodies (1 Cor 6:18), but sexual immorality is king today. That truth doesn't matter, and justice will not prevail. In all manner of sin, our society is rejecting truth, resulting in the loss of justice, and that is becoming the American way.
The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy. (2 Chron 36:15-16)

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Next

On more than one occasion for more than one reason I and many others have raised concerns about the decline of religious freedom in America. I know. There are those who will pound the table and deny it, but this whole uproar in specific opposition to religious freedom in recent places like Arizona, Indiana, and Arkansas paints a different picture. So what's next?

The most oft-repeated warning I've seen is that the left will target churches to revoke their tax status. The rule of the immoral majority at present is "You will either embrace the gay lifestyle or you will suffer" (always offered as some sort of "tolerance" demand, as if that makes sense) so anyone that holds--either because of the clear presentation on the subject in Scripture or from other sources--to the view that such behavior is immoral should expect to suffer. And biblical churches are currently not willing to give in on this point, so they should expect the same.

Here's my question. Should it matter?

The governor of Arkansas said that one of the reasons he didn't sign the bill in his state was because his son asked him not to. More than one politician has changed his view on gay mirage because his or her son or daughter declared themselves gay. The state of Indiana is beleaguered economically because their government decided that the First Amendment was still in effect and they're bearing such consequences that they're planning to change the law. In all these cases (and, please, feel free to find many, many more), consequences rule ideas. In this version of the process, we see what it costs and then determine what's right.

We're like the Pharisees in Luke 20 when they demanded Jesus tell them by whose authority He was acting. He asked them a counter question. "I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?" (Luke 20:3-4) These religious leaders considered several things. "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From man,' all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet." (Luke 20:5-6) What they did not consider was what was true. They answered they didn't know and Jesus refused to answer their question.

So, here we are. Do we determine what is right by the consequences? Or are there things that are true regardless of the consequences? Jesus said, "Whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me." (Matt 10:38) This assumes 1) that "follow Me" is the right thing and 2) there are consequences--"his cross"--for doing the right thing. So will we do what's right despite consequences, or will we reorder what is right to eliminate what is unpleasant? There are voices out there arguing for a "Christian litmus test". If you hold to biblical Christianity, you shouldn't be allowed to ..., and they'll put several things in there. Teach your children. Own a business. Take public office. Live. It all depends on the voice and how extreme they might be. Do we determine what is right and true by what it costs, or do we take up our cross and follow Him? Personally, the consequence of "not worthy of Me" is far worse than anything Man can do to me.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

What's Wrong?

Over time humans have been pretty ... inventive when it comes to right and wrong. It started way back with Eve. The serpent asked, "Did God say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?" And Eve bravely answered, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" (Gen 3:1-3) Good job, Eve, standing on what's right. Except God didn't say that. God said nothing about touching it.

This idea of made-up morality has lived since the beginning. After the Flood it was moral to ignore God and stay together rather than to fill the whole earth, so when they decided to create a name for themselves "lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth" (Gen 11:4), they started building their own stairway to heaven and paid the price (Gen 11:1-8). After hearing the very words of God at Mount Sinai, Israel determined that the moral thing to do was to violate that whole "no graven image" command and worship a golden calf (Exo 32) and they paid the price. The Pharisees decided that the Scriptures needed to be more applicable to life, so they made up rules about "Corban" (Matt 7:11-13) and defined "work on the Sabbath" by narrow means (Matt 12:1-14) and so on. Same concept. We define "moral".

It hasn't changed. It's the same today. Try to show, for instance, that the Bible clearly claims that homosexual behavior is sexual sin and you'll be laughed at (or worse) because we know better now. Murder isn't evil because God said, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image." (Gen 9:6) It's just ... evil. Bestiality isn't wrong because God said it was. It's a matter of consent, you see, because everyone knows that consent is the key to morality. No, seriously, that's what you'll hear. Or something equally ... odd.

The strange thing is that this comes from both the atheist and the self-professed[1] Christian. The argument is that right and wrong are fluid and we decide what it is. Maybe because of some inborn thing. Maybe because of culture. Maybe by evolutionary forces. Who knows? The believer will hold that there is objective morality and the atheist will deny anything not tested by science (which would necessarily include objective morality), but "right and wrong" are just "out there", nebulous somehow. You know, gray.

Biblical Christianity would have to disagree. When God is described as "good", it is not intended to convey that He conforms to an external form of goodness. He is unique in His attribute of "good" in that He defines good. "Good" is defined by that which is aligned with God's nature. So when God says, "This is right and that is wrong", it's not because He has insight into some higher moral code, but because He defines it.

But you will hear, "It's not right or wrong because the Bible says it is; it's right or wrong depending on if it aligns with what we all know to be right or wrong." And they'll tell you, in the instance in question, what that is. Usually it's "Does it cause harm?"[2] But here's the problem. We believers understand that atheists have no universal basis for morality--no basis on which to claim that their moral beliefs ought to apply to others--without a universal Lawgiver, and, yet, when self-professed Christians argue down this road, they're putting themselves in the same position. "It's not right or wrong because the Bible says it is" simply puts them in the position of holding to some nebulous, unknown, unknowable "morality" which is fluid, changing, and, in the final analysis, purely subjective. And it only gets worse from that point. Because people who hold this view and who believe in God will then backfill this information to God. God, now, must conform to their fluid, subjective morality. And now we've arrived at the singular problem of theism--an evil God who doesn't do what we all know is right.

Let me be clear, then. We don't get to decide what's right or wrong. What's wrong? Whatever God says is wrong. What's right? Whatever God says is right. How does He determine it? Not from a superior knowledge of some higher standard of goodness to which He and we must conform. No, He determines right and wrong by His own nature. So when He says "Do this" and "Don't do that" in the pages of Scripture, He's right and He is defining morality. When He says "This is an abomination" it is, not because of some higher standard of right and wrong, but because He says it is. When you or I decide that we have some better insight, then, we're not improving on God's moral code; we're defying God. Whether that's "It's wrong to dance" of some church groups or "It's right to own slaves" of some "Christian" groups of the 18th and 19th centuries or "Marriage is defined however we want it to be" and "homosexual behavior is certainly moral" of the modern liberal "Christian" mind, it is an assault on God. Nothing less. And my job is to be sure that I don't fall into that trap of either excusing that which God condemns or condemning that which God does not.
________
[1] I don't use "self-professed" to say, "But they're not real ones." I use it to say that lots of people claim to be Christians, and I'm referring to that group of people, whether or not they are real ones.

[2] I find that odd because clearly sexual sadomasochism is defined as causing harm, but they'll defend that. Point out the damage of homosexual behavior and they'll defend that. So it's not making sense to me. Conversely, getting them to explain the "harm" it does an animal to engage in sexual relations seems to be impossible, but they'll argue against that. But, hey, who knows?

Monday, April 06, 2015

Where is God When it Hurts?

Perhaps the single most common complaint against God, both among believers and skeptics, is the complaint, "If there is a God, how can He allow all this suffering?" Oh, maybe it doesn't start with "if" but assumes God. And maybe "suffering" is modified. Maybe it's "evil" or something similar, but you get the idea. Indeed, I would be a little surprised if you hadn't asked something similar. We all come up against it. Jeremiah complained, "Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?" (Jer 12:1) Same concept. Same complaint.

Jeremiah finds satisfaction in God's judgment. "Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and set them apart for the day of slaughter." (Jer 12:3) But that's hard because so often the fact of judgment is a long way off. And, let's face it ... it's a tough question. When a child dies or a missionary is murdered or a church bus crash kills 8, it makes you wonder. When one quarter of those who died on that AirAsia flight were members of one church, it's easy to scratch your head and ask, "Where is God?"

This actually caused the psalmist problems. Asaph writes, "But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." (Psa 73:2-3) "Almost stumbled" might be generous. He saw the prosperity of the wicked and asked, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" (Psa 73:11) And he contrasted their success with his difficulties (Psa 73:13-14) Even trying to understand it was "a wearisome task" (Psa 73:16).

So what was Asaph's answer? First, he, too, saw the judgment of God. "I discerned their end. Truly You set them in slippery places; You make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!" (Psa 73:17-19) But that's not the final answer. What is Asaph's response to the problem? I think it's one you've heard before.
Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works. (Psa 73:25-28)
This is a stunning answer. The answer is, "What do I care about difficulties in this life? God is my answer. There is no one and nothing more precious than Him." "For me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works."

Of course, I know that isn't a satisfactory answer for the skeptic. "What in this life's pleasures and pains can compare to knowing Him?" I'm relatively sure that a lot of Christians might find it insufficient. That, however, is a problem. When we find the here and now more important than God, I think we've put our finger on a serious problem. And it's not a problem with God. It's a heart problem, a violation of the great and first commandment (Matt 22:37-38). And that means we are the problem, not God.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Love You to Death

I'm sure you've heard it; might have even said it. "I love you to death!" An endearing phrase, I'm pretty sure. But can you take it literally? God did.

Think about it. Paul said, "We preach Christ crucified." (1 Cor 1:23) What a story! He even recognizes the problem. "To Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness." And that's the Christ we preach--crucified. But it's huge.

I suspect we suffer from a little nearsightedness and often don't see just how vast God is and, in consequence, how vast our sin is. We stand guilty of Cosmic Treason ... and that's the best we get.
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:5-8)
So we're stuck, on our own, with the mind set on the flesh and its ramifications. We're hostile to God, unwilling to subject ourselves to God, unable to please God. We aren't merely estranged; we're enemies. And then that glorious, "But God" (Eph 2:4-7).

Think about that. Here we are, treasonous creatures shaking our fists in the face of God, aiming to overthrow Him if we could. And Him? He's there planning the death of His Son on behalf of the enemy. That's right. Not friends, not loved ones, not people desperately seeking to know Him. His sworn enemies. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us" sent His Son to die for us so that we who place our faith in Him could be made "alive together with Christ ... so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." If you are His, God literally loved you to death--the death of His Son.

Sure, "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless." (1 Cor 15:17) As Paul Harvey used to say, that's "the rest of the story." So today, Easter, we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Savior. Let's not lose sight of the marvel of it. I'm sorry, that's not sufficient. I don't have the words. That the Father would choose to send His only Son, that Christ would volunteer to come, that Jesus would die the most excruciating death and suffer His own Father's wrath, that He would lie in the grave for three days and then rise again for me, the chief among sinners, is too wonderful for me to express. Isaac Watts wrote, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." I dare not forget it.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

TSF

I've always been baffled by the Muslim view of heaven--72 virgins. What's that all about? Heaven is time surrounded by 72 women who haven't had sex? And that's "heavenly" how? Well, of course, it's about sex. Everyone knows that "sex"="heaven". Or, at least, they should.

It's the message today. The clamor is for TSF--Total Sexual Freedom. We should be allowed to pursue happiness, you see, and happiness is defined as "doing whatever we want sexually". The quaint moral concept of "perverted" is right out. The claim is "What I do with whom in my bedroom is no one's business." That claim in the '60's meant "We don't have to be married to have sex," but "You've come a long way, baby." What that sex entailed, what was "sexy", how public that bedroom was made, who those activities were with, and so much more have all morphed until we have groups that publicly assert that "man-boy love" is good, that marriages between multiple men and women together ought to be recognized, and, equally disturbingly, that anyone who believes otherwise is a discriminating hater.

That's what's going on over the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) situation. It's not that anyone is saying, "We are going to discriminate against gays!" The fear is that there is a possibility that someone (unnamed at this point, but likely one of those hateful Christian types) might object morally to my means of orgasm and that will never do! The link is simple. "If Christian, then bigot." Anyone with moral values (except the moral value of total sexual freedom) is a hater. Any attempt to limit my total sexual freedom is itself evil, and that includes your opinion that my behavior is in some sense bad.

One is tempted to think, "It's that small, oppressed minority, the gays, who are up in arms here" and, as such, might be sympathetic. But it's not possible, in light of the responses to this law, to conclude such a thing. It's not some "loud and proud" gay group yelling out there. It's Apple and Angie's List and the NCAA and the Democratic Party (whose president signed into law the 1993 RFRA). The aim here is not to defend some oppressed minority, but to make people with religious values the endangered minority. Because nothing is more fundamental to human rights than my Total Sexual Freedom, and you had better not say anything about it ... even in your own mind.

So, where do we go from here? Recently my place of employment required us all to fill out a "diversity survey". You know, "How do you think we're doing encouraging diversity in the workplace?" That kind of thing. One of the questions they asked--and you know what answer they hoped for--was "Do you feel safe expressing views that might not agree with the mainstream?" I had to honestly answer "No" because, while they might certainly encourage diverse views on Total Sexual Freedom, regardless of how bizarre or even morally reprehensible they might be, they would certainly not keep someone employed who held to a biblical perspective on such things. "That will never do. Your services will no longer be required." Because our current society encourages diversity ... as long as it's not Christian. And the Indiana hubbub shows that the media, the captains of industry, and the culture in general will certainly militate strongly against any law that defends people of traditional faith. Tolerance is the buzzword, but it only goes one way--my total sexual freedom.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday, 2015

It's Good Friday, an ironic term given the fact that's it's the day that every year commemorates the day humans executed the Son of God. But, hey, it is good because (whether or not Jesus actually died on a Friday) this is the day that Christ died for our sins. This is our annual reminder that Christ died for your sins.

Maybe we need more than a once-a-year reminder. A common subject in hymns is the cross. Perhaps my reference material isn't comprehensive enough, but I found a profound lack of choruses and praise songs with the cross as the central issue. The question of "why?" can be inconclusive and alarming. The fact remains that the cross is as much a central theme in Scripture as it is in hymns; in fact, more so. Paul said, "We preach Christ crucified." (1 Cor 1:23) He told the Corinthians, "I determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified." (1 Cor 2:2) We are to live all of life with a view to the cross (Heb 12:2). The daily operation of the Christian life is the taking up of one's cross (Matt 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 14:27). It is at the cross that we learn how to love (Eph 5:25; Rom 5:8) and how to view trials (Rom 8:17,18; Phil 3:10; Heb 5:8; 1 Peter 4:1,13).

The hymns join in this theme with vigor. "How Great Thou Art" devotes an entire stanza in awe of the cross.
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Isaac Watts spends his entire time "At the Cross" recognizing the unfathomable wonder of what occurred there for us:
Alas, and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I have done He suffered on that tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree!
Another Watts hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," puts all of life in perspective through the filter of Christ's sacrifice:
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the death of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.
Toplady's "Rock of Ages" is the argument based on salvation by the blood alone. His main point: "In my hand no price I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling." Elizabeth Clephane takes the argument a step further, claiming that the cross is the place we should be living. "Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand," she says, and goes on to explain why. Further, she urges us to remain focused there by telling what she sees:
Upon that cross of Jesus, mine eye can sometimes see
The very dying form of One who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart with tears two wonders I confess--
The wonders of His glorious love and my own worthlessness.
Perhaps this is why we avoid the cross in our songs today. While we certainly enjoy the concept of God's love, we don't like the concept of sin. Self-esteem may be damaged. Guilt might be imparted. Our fragile egos can't stand the stress. And a look at the cross certainly produces stress when we see the need. God required DEATH because of my sin.

We won't accept that. We nod our heads and agree, but we don't really believe it. We stand, with fists raised, and defy God to prove our guilt. "I'm just not that bad, God," we protest loudly. "I haven't killed anyone ... if you leave out that 'hating your brother is murder' stuff. I'm no sex offender ... as long as you leave the 'lust equals adultery' thing out of it. I don't worship other gods ... let's not talk about the idolatry of greed." And we glibly compare ourselves among ourselves and stand firm on our conviction that we're not that bad. But the truth is the standard is God and His perfection, and we are sinners from the inside out. We have all but blotted out the image of God in us and replaced it with the arrogant Self.

The cross was costly. It showed the great extent to which God would go to save worthless ones like us. It demonstrated love toward the unlovable. Its horror graphically illustrated the horror of our sin and the depths of our depravity, contrasting us with the perfection that was Jesus Christ. It is only when we see this, only when we realize this, that we can grasp the cross with both hands, cling to it quite literally, for dear life.

Beyond that, living in the shadow of the cross is the sole place to abide:
I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place -
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross. (Gal 6:14)
"O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," taken from a much longer seven-part medieval poem, devotes its entire text to Christ's head as He suffered on the cross:
O Sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns Thy only crown,
How art Thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners' gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! 'Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever! And should I fainting be,
Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee!
Spafford devoted an entire verse of "It Is Well With My Soul" to the bliss of Christ's blood shed for us:
My sin--O the bliss of this glorious tho't--
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more:
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Many, many more hymns are devoted to the cross. Pick up a hymnal sometime and look in the topical index. You'll find multiple listings under various topics such as Atonement, The Blood of Jesus, The Cross, and The Crucifixion. Their titles betray their content. "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" "Near the Cross" "At the Cross" "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" Title after title speaks of the cross and their focus there.

Why this "morbid" preoccupation? Why should they--and, by implication, we--spend so much time looking at the cross? You have the answer. The central theme of Scripture is the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ at the cross. In that single event, all of life changes. Where there was only the certainty of righteous judgment now comes the hope of grace and mercy. Where there were only our fruitless attempts at virtuous living is now freedom. Where there was fear of punishment now comes love.

And the Bible doesn't stop its crucifixion focus at the Resurrection. Certainly we serve a risen Savior, but we see His character magnified large enough for us to recognize at the cross, and the Scriptures are sure to point this out. So everyday, practical living is derived from looking at the cross. Husbands, how are you supposed to love your wives? What does it look like? Look to the cross. Love her "as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her." (Eph 5:25) Now look at the cross and see how that looks. That means that when all were reviling Him, He did not return the insults. That means that when all had forsaken Him, He still died in her place. That means that although it cost Him everything, He willingly gave all for her, withholding nothing for Himself. All this and more we see at the cross.

Are there difficult circumstances in your life? Do you suffer? How do you deal with it? Look to the cross. "If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps." (1 Peter 2:20,21) "Since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin." (1 Peter 4:1) "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death." (Phil 3:10) "Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . He humbled Himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross!" (Phil 2:5 8) "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb 12:2) By looking at the cross, we see that suffering has a purpose, and that we are not alone in it.

These are just a couple of examples of the biblical perspective on the cross. In fact, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ touches every aspect of the Christian's life. Why should we be so focused on the cross? How can we not be focused there? It is the focus of God's Word. It must be our focus, also.