Friday, May 22, 2015

Preposition Trouble

I grew up with Bugs Bunny cartoons. Lots of laughs. I particularly remember the ones with Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck where Elmer is trying to figure out if it's duck season or rabbit season. I particularly remember an exchange where Bugs and Daffy exchange a series of "It's ___ season! Shoot him now!" At one point, Bugs slips in "Shoot me now!" And Daffy responds, "Shoot me now!" They go back and forth a couple of times until Daffy declares, "I demand that you shoot me now!" And, of course, Elmer does. Daffy rearranges his face and goes to talk with Bugs. They go back over the exchange and Daffy says triumphantly, "Aha! Pronoun Trouble! It's not 'shoot him now," it's 'shoot me now.'" And, of course, Elmer does.

I think I've discovered something similar. It's preposition trouble. We all can read in our Bibles that we are "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). Oddly enough, when we do it, self-professed Christians raise their hands and warn us off. "Don't do that!" It's offensive or something like it. Instead, they'll tell us what's wrong with our arguments and logic and evidence.

And I was trying to figure out the disconnect between the command and what I see these "Christians" doing. I think I figure it out. Preposition troubles. They think it says, "Contend with the faith." Because instead of backing up the Scriptures, explaining the truth of the Word, siding with historical orthodoxy, and the like they oppose all that. A preposition makes all the difference.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Newspeak

No, that's not the peak of the news. It is new-speak. Newspeak is the language being developed in George Orwell's 1984. The idea was two-fold. First, why not simplify the language? You know, there are so many redundant and repetitive terms that end up producing confusion because of multiple uses and meanings. Why not pare that down? Helpful, isn't it? But the other, underlying reason was thought control. The principle was this. We express ideas through language. If the language can be controlled so that ideas that are heretical could not be expressed, then those ideas would be, quite literally, unthinkable.

In Orwell's dystopian world, "free", for instance, has changed meanings. While we think of freedom, that idea was removed from the language entirely (because they didn't want anyone to think of "freedom") and only the sense in which you might be "free of lice" or a field might be "free of weeds" would the word ever occur. Take a word. Shift it ever so slightly. Scrape off the unwanted "baggage". Presto! Thought control.

In Orwell's story, the character, Syme, is explaining to his comrade, Winston, (because the word "friend" had been removed) that in the end, "The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking - not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness[1]."

And so it goes. The story had hosts of examples of Newspeak. The Miniluv, the Ministry of Love, was a terrifying place with barbed wire and machine-gun nests where people were tortured and drugged ... but it was the Ministry of Love. The Minipax, the Ministry of Peace, provided peace by keeping the nation in perpetual war so the citizens could focus their hate away from the misery of their own home. And so it goes.

As it turns out, Orwell wasn't a fiction writer as much as a prophet. We're doing this today. Look at some examples.
"We're a city that's at the forefront of inclusion." -Boston Mayor Tom Menino explaining why they were excluding Chick-Fil-A from Boston.
Somehow in today's use of terminology "inclusion" has come to mean "excluding those we don't find inclusive enough".

Racism is defined as an animosity or prejudice towards those of different races. That's as helpful as the dictionary gets because we know that today racism is defined differently. It is now defined with Newspeak in mind. You see, only members of the dominant race can be racist. Racism cannot occur when those from the unequal race engage in animosity or prejudice toward those of the dominant race. In America, then, since more whites than blacks (as an example) exist and whites hold more power positions than blacks, only whites can be racist; blacks cannot. You see, though, that this is thought control. By redefining the term to mean something new, there is no word available to cite the hatred and prejudice that hispanics or blacks (for instance) might feel toward whites. Indeed, to many, the idea is unthinkable. Sure, minorities may hate whites, but it's not racism; it's justice. Black racists do not exist.

You know I have to point out the term, "marriage", in this list. It had a meaning. We are so far from that meaning today that it is not recognizable, even among Christians. It used to refer to a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman aimed at mutual communion and at producing offspring. It used to be that everyone felt bad for the childless couple. It used to be the only moral place for sex to take place. But marriage itself is in decline in our society because fewer and fewer see it as a lifelong commitment. Fewer and fewer see it as aimed at offspring. And the number that see it as the only moral place of sexual relations are miniscule. No, no, today "marriage" means "two people committing to each other for an indeterminate time ("'til love do us part") for no other reason than for mutual pleasure." Not the same thing.

I'll leave off the obvious "gay" term which clearly once meant happy and no longer does and move on to the ever-popular "tolerance". Now, that word, according to the dictionary, means, "acceptance of different views". So, if I tell you, "I believe you have the right to your opinion, but I have to tell you I disagree with you," I would be epitomizing the concept of "tolerance" ... and be called "intolerant" today. Tolerance now doesn't mean "acceptance of different views", but "You must reject your own view in favor of mine."

One of the most devastating shifts in the language has occurred in the word, "love". Once a term meant to express one's concern for the best interests of another, it has so far shifted today as to mean almost exclusively "sex". At best, it's a warm feeling toward another. The idea that one could love another by seeking the best for the other without regard to how one might feel is nonsense. And, of course, given the shift in the definition of "marriage" to "we love each other", this shift simply means "we want to have sex with each other" more than anything else.

The first problem with this version of Newspeak is the theft of language. It's not merely that words change meanings. That happens in any living language. But in this version words are being taken from their position and not replaced. There is no longer a word that expresses, "We want to include everyone, even those with whom we disagree" because "inclusion" was stolen and nothing has been substituted. At our present day there is no term that expresses the lifelong union of a man and a woman for purposes of mutual support, companionship, and procreation. The word that used to mean that was stolen and no new one has replaced it. Simple concepts like "gender" (which used to mean "male" or "female" and now has ... what, 50 meanings on Facebook?) or "tolerance" have no terms. It's not simply that the terms shifted. It's that the ideas they expressed no longer have an expression.

A big problem with Newspeak is not that the language is shifting. It is that the language is being shifted with a purpose. Eliminate "racism" as any racial prejudice and make it only possible for white people to be racist, and you've eliminated the possibility of any other problem with races. Shift "abortion" from the termination of a life to the termination of a pregnancy--a "women's health" issue--and you've embraced murder. The devolution of "marriage" over the past half century is obvious and continuing to move the mark can only be detrimental to marriage. Stealing "happy" from "gay" and making it a birth condition isn't merely a lie; it is concept theft. Making "sex" and "love" equivalents scratches out all sorts of genuine love and replaces it with all kinds of false love. It is thought control whereby those with our own Newspeak are no longer able to think rightly or even to think at all in some cases.

Of course, one of the key problems of this "newspeak" is not merely that words change. It is the requirement that you and I change with it. Not only do they wish to alter "marriage"; they wish to make you embrace it. Speaking of marriage in its original sense is wrong. And by imposing these changes, they alter your thinking. And that is the goal. No longer will you think about "marriage" or "gay" or "racism" in its original sense. Now it will mean what they want it to mean, and you won't be able to think of the original concept because you won't have a word for it. Ergo, "newspeak". Newspeak in Orwell's book was thought control. It is a concept we are embracing today.
________
[1] Ironic because the root of the term "orthodoxy" is "right" (ortho) "thinking" (dox).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Five Stars

You've heard of "five star hotels". I'm sure you get the idea. "Five stars" is top of the line. It's the best. You can't get any better. That's what they're trying to convey. Only one problem. Can you guess what it is?

The "five star" rating is ambiguous, you see. If the standard is "one to five stars", then a five star rating is the top. Got it. No problem. But what if the standard is ten stars? Oh, now, hold on. Now this 5-star rating is average. In the military we had a rating of 1 to 9, but if you had anything less than a 7, you were considered a problem. A 5? Discipline will likely follow. Do not expect an honorable discharge. But what if the standard is how many stars out of a hundred? Okay, at this point we have a problem. This 5-star rated hotel isn't good or even average. It is potentially dangerous and perhaps ought to be shut down. Or whatever. No, of course I'm not talking about your favorite hotel. I'm pointing to the problem of standards. What is "good"?

The issue is not merely an exercise in language or philosophy. It is a question of ultimate importance. We almost routinely ask, "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" And there it is. What is "good"? We question whether God is right in punishing people we think are good. I recently read someone's piece (can't find it to cite it ... sorry) that "proves" that Christianity is wrong by using Ghandi who was good and, according to Christianity, not in heaven. What is "good"? Most importantly, when tough times come our way, we demand, "Why would God allow this to happen to me?" with the implied "I'm good" at its core. What is "good"?

When comparing ourselves with what we see, we just might rate ourselves as four or five stars. Then we consider that Jesus said, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:48) and we should realize that's four or five stars on a scale of 1 to 1000. We figure we have something going for us until we read the biblical certainty that "no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:12) What we have here is a problem of standards. We're making a five star comparison in a universe of stars.

At real issue here, as it turns out, is not us. It is God and His justice. The Bible says we are "estranged from the womb", that we "go astray from birth, speaking lies" (Psa 58:3). David asserted that he was sinful from conception (Psa 51:5). And then we complain about the story from 1st Samuel when God ordered Israel to kill a group of people for their sin. "That's not fair!" Because we're arguing from a five-star standard against a thousand-star God.

It is this problem of standards and how far we fall short (Rom 3:23) that makes our need so great and God's grace and mercy so huge. We would be wise to consider better the standard we are under, our failure to even glimpse it, our need for a Savior, and the wonders of a God who, without any necessity to do so, provided a remedy for our shortcomings.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Eye on the Goal

Christians can be a pretty loud bunch. Even obnoxious. We'll stand on street corners and tell people they need to repent. We'll hand out pamphlets and tracts to random crowds. We'll publish blogs and books on the evils of abortion or homosexual behavior or gay marriage ... whatever is the conflict du jour. Now, to be fair, I can't say we're more obnoxious than the voices standing across the street shouting their counter protests. Real Christians don't offer death threats, for instance, but anti-Christians do. And it can't be discounted that "I think you're wrong" is considered obnoxious even when there is no malice intended. Still, there is that perception, right or wrong.

So I'd like to point out this little gem.
The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1:5)
The goal is love. It's not just here. Elsewhere we read, "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law ... if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Rom 13:8-10) And, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor." (Rom 12:10) There is the particularly pointed "Let all that you do be done in love." (1 Cor 16:14) Just a few examples. Love, you see, is biblically important. No, biblically foundational.

So, when you're getting out there calling for repentance or pointing out the error of homosexual sin or calling people to task for defending the murder of the unborn, what is your motivation? Notice, I'm not asking if you're right. I'm asking for your motivation. You may be 100% accurate in your explanation of why marriage ought to be defended in its original form. That's not my concern here. My concern is this: "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds." (Heb 10:24) So my question is not the validity of your arguments or the excellence of your evidence. I'm asking you to ask yourself why you're making the argument. Because motivation is important to God. And arguing for truth while denying the fundamental command to love is a failure.

Now, be careful here. I'm not asking you to feel warmly toward those you are addressing or pointing out. That's not love. Not biblical love. But if you are not operating from a genuine concern for the best for the others, you are sinning while you're in the midst of defending the truth. And where's the wisdom in that?

So I'm just asking you to check yourself. Why are you doing it? And I'm not asking you to stop. I'm asking you to correct it. Because it was Jesus who said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) You can be sure that you will not be warmly received for your efforts and you can be confident that pointing to the truth of sin and error won't be regarded as an act of kindness. I'm just asking you to be sure to check your own aims because arguing for the right while sinning against the Right is neither safe nor rational.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Number One

What do you suppose is the number one cause of atheism? Some might like you to believe it is the evidence. No, that's not accurate. There is no evidence for the non-existence of God. No, they would (should) argue for the lack of evidence. Still, I don't think that's the number one cause. From people I've known, articles I've read, and studies I've seen, there is another number one cause for atheism. That is the problem of evil. Oh, that's high sounding, but it's not quite like that. You see, most atheists, if they're honest, will tell you that they first started to disbelieve in God when something bad happened. Maybe a series of "something bads". A family member died. A terrible disease struck. Personal loss. Tragic events. And the age-old "How could God allow something like this to happen?" undercuts the belief in God.

Seriously, the problem is huge. It even has its own field of philosophy. It's called "Theodicy"--from Greek: "theos" for God and "dik" for justice. That is, "Is God just?" Theodicy tries to argue that He is. So it offers a variety of reasons why God would do what He does when we can't figure out "why bad things happen to good people".

I'm not offering a theodicy here. I'm pointing out how the need for theodicy points out the problem. No, not the problem with defending God. The problem of why bad things happen. First, consider. Can God be just if God does not punish transgressions? Obviously justice requires the proper response to ... crime. So, what is the crime?

You see, the fundamental complaint against God in view here is that God does not conform to our standards. He does not give us the good things we want. He allows things we don't want. He fails to meet our designated requirements. Because, you see, due to our nature--our sin nature--we are the most important beings in the universe and God, if there is one, must submit Himself to our demands. So we have skeptics who complain "Prayer doesn't work because God doesn't give me what I ask for." And we have liberal theologians who argue that Hell is wrong. And we have a Supreme Court that is considering redefining marriage. All because we are the most unjustly arrogant beings in the universe. We are Number One. And God has failed our tests, so He's right out. Thus, the need for a just God to respond to the evil we perpetrate. You know, the response we complain about to the evil we present.

In short, the number one reason for atheism is that we humans consider ourselves Number One. We believe a deity would be obligated to us--to meet our standards and be our Butler and provide our pleasures. And we're dead wrong.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Truth

John the Baptist, speaking of Jesus, made this bold assersion: "God is true." (John 3:33) "Bold assersion? Isn't that a given?" One would think so, but these days it is in question. His Word isn't reliable. And anyone that argues that it is is some sort of nut. Oh, the "gotcha" word of the day is "fundamentalist". So in light of the popular "Christian" perception these days that God's Word is certainly not inerrant or infallible, it comes as a bold statement to argue that God is true.

So what? If a person has a less then complete notion that God is true, what does it matter? It matters much. What John actually said with his declaration of the truthfulness of God is "He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true." (John 3:33) That is, everyone that has a functioning relationship with Christ affirms this fact. Beyond this, eternal life is found in knowing the only true God (John 17:3). No true God, no eternal life.

It's big, then. It is on His attribute of truth that we base our confidence that He will keep His promises. On His truth we base the certainty that what He tells us is true even if it defies experience or our comprehension. And it is the suppression of this truth that produces God's wrath against us (Rom 1:18).

There are positives and negatives to God's attribute of truth. Without it we invite wrath, demonstrate a lack of relationship with Christ, and eliminate eternal life. Isn't it interesting that Jesus said that the reason He wasn't believed was that He spoke the truth (John 8:45)? On the other hand, with it we have certainty, confidence, comfort, and freedom (John 8:32).
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thess 2:16-17)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Racism Equity

Saida Grundy is an African-American Boston University professor who was sending out tweets against white men. She tweeted that she avoids shopping at white-owned businesses and that white men are a problem. "White masculinity is THE problem for America's problem," she said. There was, of course, a response of outrage, but the site launched for complaining had 200 signatures while the site that supported her had 2,000. The university said it was unfortunate, but they believed in free speech and she was just exercising her rights.

Nancy Gordeuk is the (white) founder of TNT Academy and served as the principal. At the graduation ceremony, she accidentally dismissed the crowd before the valedictorian spoke. She tried to call them back, but when they didn't respond quickly enough, she said, "You people are being so rude to not listen to this speech. It was my fault that we missed it in the program. Look who’s leaving! All the black people!" Nancy was fired for her "rude", "disparaging", racist remarks.

I'm trying to figure out the difference. "Racism equity" exists--there is racism all over the place--but "racism equity" in terms of the response to racism doesn't exist.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Radical Christianity

When you think "radical" you normally think "extreme" or "drastic". Funny thing. While it certainly is one of the definitions, it's not the primary one. The first definition of the word is "fundamental". Another is "thorough, complete, or total". Or how about "forming a basis or foundation"? That's one.

We hear often about "radical Christianity". That's when we're really "far out", doing the unusual. And what is commonly thought of as "unusual" and "far out" Christianity? It's biblical. It's obedient. It's a walk by faith instead of solely limited to sight. You know ... it's what the Bible says.

Now, of course, there is another term for that. It's called "fundamentalism". Oh, wait! That was another definition of "radical", wasn't it? Okay, yeah. I favor radical Christianity. As opposed to less biblical, less thorough, less complete, less fundamental. Do I recommend "radical Christianity"? As long as you mean a thoroughgoing follower of Christ, I do. Isn't it odd that this would be thought of as "radical"?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Appropriate

What is that word, appropriate? The word means "suitable or fitting for a particular purpose, person, occasion, etc." (unless, of course, you're using the verb form, in which case it refers to taking something). It is a form of "propriety" with the same idea of conforming to the standards suitable to the circumstances.

We know this word. It's not hard. We know that it's not appropriate to share a secret someone told you with someone you weren't supposed to share it with. It's not illegal; it's inappropriate. You don't laugh at a funeral. It's not immoral; it's inappropriate. Wearing shorts to the prom would not likely be deemed appropriate, not because shorts are evil, but because there is appropriate wear for appropriate events and shorts are not for the prom. We know this ... right?

I fear we've lost a large sense of the appropriate. Perhaps it's part of the decline of what used to be "common sense" but isn't so common anymore. How appropriate was it, for instance, for France to send a homosexual as ambassador to the Vatican? I'm not saying that homosexual is wrong--not the point. I'm talking about appropriate. Like sending the pastor's wife to the men's retreat. Not appropriate.

My wife started to watch one of those "renovate your house for you" shows the other day. The renovator who was the main character appeared to have a severe lack of vocabulary because there wasn't a single sentence, it seemed, that didn't have bleeped words in it. Now, I'm not saying he shouldn't be swearing. I'm simply suggesting that the guy in front of the camera should understand that the kind of language he uses should be appropriate to the situation ... and that was not.

Recently there was a story in the news where this fellow left his vehicle running at a gas station to run in to buy something. The car, of course, was stolen. Worse, his baby was in the car. Well, they found the car a short time later with the baby inside and everyone was safe though they were still looking for the thief. The reporter interviewed the mother of the recovered child. There she was, delighted that her baby was home again, hugging him close, and telling the world, "I don't give a **** about the car; this was all I cared about." Well, okay, we get it, but how appropriate was it to talk like that for the 6 o'clock news to hear and around the child?

Driving, walking, shopping, even going to church, it seems as if "appropriate" doesn't exist much anymore. So maybe Paul's words might be lost on us when he told King Agrippa that he "kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance." (Acts 26:20) What exactly is "deeds appropriate to repentance"? There are those who will tell you there is no such thing. "We're saved by faith, not by works. 'Deeds appropriate to repentance' don't exist." There are others who would assure us that it's backwards. "Deeds make repentance appropriate. Until you do sufficient good deeds, repentance won't avail you much." But it's a biblical concept. They are the works James spoke about that justify faith (James 2:15-26). It is walking in a manner worthy of your calling (Eph 4:1ff).

In our society, so well engulfed in self-gratification and so well blinded by the god of this world, "appropriate" is quickly losing its meaning. We still have to remember that we are to perform deeds appropriate to repentance. We need to demonstrate the new life we claim to have, the new heart we claim to have received. Do you?


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The New Order of Nones

Perhaps you've heard. Millennials are leaving the church in droves. In 2007, 78.4% of Americans classified themselves as Christian. In the study released Tuesday, that number is down to 70.6%. Further, "almost every major branch of Christianity in the United States has lost a significant number of members." Why? Because millennials are departing the faith. It's called the rise of the "nones"--no religious affiliation. That number has reached a high, comprising 23% of the population. In the "silent generation" born 1928-1945, 85% called themselves Christians. Those born in the first half of the 1990's are down to 56%.

And who is surprised, really? Perhaps you caught it when candidate Obama bemoaned folks who "cling to guns or religion" as if that was a positive message for his campaign. Perhaps you've seen it in current candidate Clinton's argument that "religious beliefs must change" in support of abortion as a winning theme for a presidential candidate. Surely you've seen it in the public outcry against protecting religious freedom in places like Arizona, Indiana, or Arkansas. The public opinion is turning against biblical Christianity.

But if it's these that clued you in, you aren't reading your Bible. Because if you were, you'd know that this is how it works. You'd know, for instance, that those amazing numbers--85% of the "silent generation" or the 78% from 2007 or even the current 70%--don't line up with Jesus's words: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matt 7:13-14) Just in case you aren't clear on numbers, 70% is not "few". You'd know that the church is full of wheat and tares (Matt 13:24-30). It shouldn't be a surprise that anti-Christian sentiment is on the rise or that the young generation, seduced by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, are following the ways of the world. It should be expected.

No, it shouldn't be a surprise. Nor should we think it's a bad thing. A winnowing of weeds isn't a bad thing. Read the description of the last days in 2 Tim 3:1-7 and realize that Paul describes many churches today. Being in "the last days" is a good thing. When you read John's declaration that the antichrists of the world come out from us (1 John 2:18-20), this shouldn't be a surprise. Indeed, John says, "They went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." It's a good thing.

Rest assured, fellow believers. God is still on His throne. He still builds His Church. It was our Savior who said of His sheep, "No one will snatch them out of My hand." (John 10:28) Just don't be surprised at the ordeal (1 Peter 4:12-13). Instead, aim to "Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Tim 2:3) In times that look dark and dismal there is no better place to be than in the hand of the Sovereign God.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Christianese

You know Christianese, don't you? Yes, that's the language we speak as Christians. It has its own terminology that we understand. There are humorous parts and some serious parts. We'll toss around "atonement" and "backsliding", "antichrist" and "propitiation", the "Rapture" and "Shekinah glory" like nobody's business. Because we speak the language.

You also know me. I'm concerned about words. More importantly, I'm concerned about communication. So, it would be obvious, I think, that we should avoid using this nearly foreign language among those who don't speak it. But we do. "Are you saved?" is supposed to be a meaningful question to people who don't even know that they're not. Just an example.

More of a problem, though, is our own lackluster understanding of our own terminology. Here, a prime example. We all know what I meant by that question. "Are you saved?" Because we know that "saved" is a reference to "saved from the wrath of God" or something pretty near to it. It is, after all, biblical (e.g., Eph 2:8-9). So when we talk and read about "salvation", we know what we're talking about. And there would be times we'd be wrong. In Paul's first letter to Timothy, he speaks of the salvation of women. "But women will be saved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Tim 2:15) You see, men are saved by faith, but women are saved by having babies. Oh, didn't know that? That's because it's not true. We know "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) We know that Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6) The Bible is clear that "by grace you have been saved through faith" (Eph 2:8). No equivocation. So, what is Paul talking about? Well, he's simply using the word "saved" in a sense it can be used. It can refer to "saved from wrath" or it can refer to "saved from enemies" (2 Sam 22:4) or it can refer to simply being preserved (Jer 33:16). And, of course, in this text a suitable translation would be "preserved", will have an inheritance, a legacy, a remembrance. Not a difficulty ... as long as you're not stuck in Christianese.

Another would be "justified". We know that one, too. It means "declared right by God". We know that "by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight" (Rom 3:20), but we are "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24). We glory in the idea that "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." (Rom 3:28) Paul makes a point that Abraham was not justified by works (Rom 4:2), but by faith. We know the term. We're aware of the stark break between works and justification. We get it. And then we come across this little gem.
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)
Hey, now, hang on! Didn't we just agree that we are justified by faith apart from works? Doesn't Paul beat that horse to death? What's going on here? Reasonable question.

Remember ... context, context, context. James is not writing about salvation in his epistle. The context of this particular quote is in regards to the evidence of faith. "Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." (James 2:17) The question is not "How do we arrive at salvation?" The question is "What does living faith look like?" Here, then, James uses another standard usage for "justified". And it's not "declared right by God." It's more like when Jesus used the term in Luke. "Wisdom is justified by all her children." (Luke 7:35) No, wisdom is not declared right by God. Wisdom is demonstrated to be right by "her children", the results of wisdom. In this case as in the case of James 2, "justified" doesn't refer to "declared right by God", but simply "demonstrated to be right". Not a difficulty ... as long as you're not stuck in Christianese.

Christianese is a handy shortcut for many intra-Christian conversations. We know our terms. We understand each other. It's fine. We just need to be careful that 1) we actually know the term we're using, 2) we're using it correctly, and 3) the other person knows all that, too. Because the primary concern is communication. Perhaps we should try to be "an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." (1 Tim 4:12) A worthy goal.

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Go, therefore, and ..."

We all know the Great Commission, right? Go and preach the Gospel. Well, no, not quite. Although that might be the answer you will hear ... or even think. No, Jesus said something a little different.
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt 28:18-20)
What's my point? Didn't that just say we were supposed to preach the Gospel? Well, yes ... and no.

I included the entire statement because the entire statement is significant. So, first, the premise (because in the famous "Great Commission" you will find the word "therefore" which indicates there is a reason for which we are to comply). All authority has been given to Christ. All authority. Authority in heaven and authority on earth. Christ is the ultimate authority. Therefore ...

After the command, we get a secondary statement. "Lo, I am with you always." So, because He is the ultimate authority and 1) has the right to make the command and 2) the authority to assist you in carrying it out, do what He says. And, oh, by the way, you will not be doing it alone. He will be with you.

All well and good. Do what? "Preach the Gospel." No. That's not what it says. "Make disciples of all the nations." Not the same thing. Oh, sure, the very first step of making a disciple is preaching the Gospel, but that's only the beginning. It's like saying, "You told me to go to the store, so I obeyed and started the car." No, you started to obey. There's more. How much more? "Make disciples." More. "Baptize them." More. "Teach them to obey." In other words, a lot more.

This isn't a "street corner" thing. It isn't a "door to door with a tract" thing. It isn't even a "crusade" thing. It is a lifelong commitment on the part of every single Christian who intends to obey Christ (remember, the ultimate authority) to be constantly preaching the Gospel, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. It's a large function. And, oh, by the way, it is for everyone. "Well, look," someone might say, "how about if I preach the Gospel and someone else baptizes them and someone else--oh, maybe lots of others--teach them? How's that? Gets me off the hook." Nice sounding, I guess, but it isn't in keeping with the Commission Christ gave you. Surely, lots of people must preach the Gospel and lots of people must baptize and lots of people must teach them to obey (because, after all, He said "observe all that I have commanded"), but the command is to each of us.

Now, I understand. This is just me talking here. You may not see it that way. That's fine. I only want to ask this. The text says what it says. Jesus commanded what He commanded for the reasons He gave. So, what are you doing about it? Are you following the Great Commission He gave? That's the important question. The question isn't "Are they hearing the Gospel?" or "Are they being taught?" The question I'm asking is what are you doing to obey? Because "I didn't feel qualified to disciple someone" in response to "All authority has been given to Me and I will be with you" doesn't seem like a winning response. Oh, and I don't need an answer. You'll have to give Him that answer.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Boys Need Moms

Everybody knows that boys need dads. They need the male example. They need the influence of a loving male in their lives and in their homes. Well, everybody that is thinking clearly. And everybody knows that daughters need mothers. Like boys and their dads, girls need the influence and example of a loving mother. In both cases, they will perceive that they are supposed to be the boys their fathers are or the girls their mothers are.

Conversely, the epithet "mama's boy" is not intended as a compliment. Studies have shown that boys raised by a single mother have more adverse affects to deal with than girls. Face it. A single mom is certainly better than no mom, but mothers cannot teach their sons to become men.

So, it would seem like the only need for a two-parent, mother-father household in terms of the children would be if there were boy and girl children. And, as it turns out, that would be wrong.

Sons have specific needs that mothers are uniquely qualified to meet. From their mothers they tend to learn affection, compassion, nurturing, and encouragement. From their mothers, sons learn what women are like, how to understand them, respond to them, appreciate them. Dads teach different things. Fathers teach confidence, and strength; mom's teach comfort and caring. As it turns out, studies indicate that a primary problem source for wayward young men is a mother problem, not a father problem. And apparently it's not as true for girls. Boys need moms ... good moms.

It's Mother's Day, of course, so I think this is a good place to say thanks. Kids don't pick their parents, so my first "thank you" is to God. He chose a spectacular mother for me. I have not always been a "good son". (How was that for some serious equivocation?) I needed (need) a special mother who had the care and concern and love to give me as well as the strength to tolerate me. I needed a mother who was more thoughtful than a "typical mother" because I was willing to ask my mother all sorts of things (still do) and she had to not only answer, but do it without embarrassment. (You know, when they hesitate or blush, you don't feel like asking "those" kinds of questions again, whatever "those" are.) My nature and my life choices required an unusually good mother. God gave me that.

I'm a grandfather now, but that didn't make my mother a great grandmother. She has always been a great mother, and, as time unfolded, a great grandmother. I suppose, then, that would make her a great great-grandmother. I still enjoy a uniquely rich and fulfilling relationship with my mother and I thank God and my mother for that.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Marriage and the Government

The question has been asked, more and more these days, "Why is the government involved in marriage?" Reasonable question. It hasn't always been. So why is it?

In order to answer the question, we first need to figure out "Why is there government at all?" What is the purpose of government? At its lowest point, government exists to protect people from conflicts and to provide law and order. We might ask, "Why are there conflicts?" That one is easy. The Bible actually answers that one. "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel." (James 4:1-2) So people want stuff, so they fight to get it. It may be a person, a family group, a society, a nation. But someone wants something they don't have and that produces conflict. Enter government. The purpose of government, then, is to protect and to regulate for the good of the governed. Well, maybe. If the government is "rule by man", then it might be for the good of the man. If the government is "rule by God" (theocracy), then it might be for the good of God. But ours is a "rule by law" government, so it is intended for the good of the people. Kind of like the classic police motto: to protect and to serve. The Declaration of Independence argued that the purpose of government was to secure our God-given rights.

This, of course, is about the end of anything on which people will agree. That's because at this point exactly how a government can best protect and serve its people is a matter of millions of opinions. Should it rule or relax? Should it enslave or loose? Should it be one person or representatives? How much freedom should individuals surrender for the good of the whole? Questions, questions, endless questions.

So why is our government involved in marriage? It is because the purpose of government is to provide for the greater good of the people. Killing is bad for the people. Outlaw it. Business is good for the people. Encourage it. Playing tennis is neither good nor bad for the people. Leave it alone. That, at least, is the basic concept. Encourage what is good for society, discourage what is bad, and ignore that which doesn't matter. Thus, the government is involved in the question of marriage because marriage is good for society. How?

I'm speaking here of marriage in the traditional, longstanding, millennia-old sense. In its original form, marriage benefits society. A male-female union for life is the ultimate environment in which to raise children. And, of course, children are absolutely necessary for a society to continue. Quality children are necessary. Quality children are best provided through traditional marriage. Children benefit from marriage of this type. They are less likely to suffer abuse, more likely to succeed, and less likely to have behavioral, psychological, or emotional problems. Married women are more likely to be healthy, less likely to suffer chronic illness, and less likely to suffer from depression. Marriage increases women's income by 50%. Married women are less likely to suffer domestic violence than divorced, separated, or never-married women. For men, marriage produces a civilizing influence. They are less likely to be incarcerated. Married men with children are more involved with their community. Married men work harder at earning a living. Married men make 25% more than single men. Their health is typically better and their life expectancy is two-thirds higher than single men. Marriage of this type is extremely beneficial to society as a whole. So the government regulates it.

As it turns out, the same value to society doesn't exist in the redefined "marriage" today. So the question is whether or not government should involve itself in marriage now that we've decided it has no real definition. Lots of voices are suggesting that the government get itself out of the marriage business since government no longer has a vested interest in marriage. My question: Is there a difference between "civil marriage" and "marriage"? Can you marry (biblically) and not have a legal married status? In short, with the dissolution of marriage (marriage itself, not marriages), is it possible to be married (in its original sense) without being married (in its government-defined form)?

Friday, May 08, 2015

Keep God Out of It

In many of our societal debates between Christians and the world we work hard to keep religion out of the debate. We want, for instance, to demonstrate that there is a God, but since the audience is not convinced of the Bible, we'll try to do it without reference to the Bible. We want to defend marriage, but since we understand that the world is not Christian, we do it without referencing God. In this latter, then, we'll try to demonstrate that "marriage means something" without demonstrating that it means something to God, because our world is not much concerned about what God thinks on the subject. So we keep God out of it and try to make our point without referencing Him. And it's easy to see why. All you have to do in a secular discussion is say, "Well, God says ..." and no one is listening anymore. The idea is, "Sure, your God, maybe, but that has no bearing on us."

I'm not sure of the value or wisdom of such an approach. And I don't plan to solve that here. What I am looking at is the danger to us when we do it. Think about it.

When we try to demonstrate that "Marriage has had a longstanding, traditional definition for millennia," for instance, we keep God out of it because they don't care what He thinks on the subject. However, the question is do we? The question is whether or not we recognize the truth. The truth is that marriage is (briefly) defined in the Bible as the union of two people put together by God. It's not true for Christians. It's true for everyone. So when an unbeliever weds an unbeliever, they are two people "whom God has joined" (Matt 19:6). Trying to wrench apart a union put together by God is just as devastating to one who doesn't believe it's true as one who does ... because it's true. The danger to us, then, is that we forget the point.

Pick a point, any point. We wish to defend the unborn against murder. Do we do it by saying, "We are made in the image of God and as His image bearers have value?" Or do we do it by explaining how illogical it is?

The problem on one hand, you see, is that the world is trying to build values on sand. No God; just whatever suits them. And then they try to apply their self-made values on everyone. Without cause. And we? We end up with the problem on the other hand. We're the ones with a reason for our values. God is the Originator. And we try to keep Him out of it.

The truth is that the truth is not dependent upon belief. "We don't believe in God" makes no difference to the question. He is. That's all there is to it. "We don't believe that it's all about God" doesn't really matter to the question. It is. That's all there is to it. We can try to have opinions supported by science and logic and all, and that's a good thing, but the bottom line is that God cannot be left out of it. He's the point. Any attempt on our part to acquiesce to His enemies to try to make our argument is simply ignoring the truth. And we're not relying on argument to make the point. That would be God's job.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Primary Influence

John MacArthur wrote an article entitled What Influence Do You Have on Your Children? the other day. Worth the read. But I'm not discussing his article. It made me think down another path.

A few years back I asked my youngest son, "What made you different?" My youngest son was hard working, studious, responsible ... not a typical teenager in any way. His older brother ... was. So I asked, "Your brother and you had the same parents, the same upbringing, the same influences. What made you different?" His answer was interesting. "Well," he told me, "I'm not as sociable as he is, so I didn't really involve myself with the kids at school and all. He was more influenced by those around him than I was."

The answer is telling. Regardless of how true it was or how wise it is to be "less sociable", the fact is that our society has worked hard at distancing parents from kids. "No, it's not," I can hear already. But that only shows how we've failed to notice. Take, for instance, education. Who is responsible for the education of your children? Unless you're a homeschooling parent, it's not you. It's the school. Oh, maybe you're more concerned than other parents and have them in a private school, but it's still not you. It's the school. Since my readers are primarily Christians, who is it that is primarily responsible for teaching your kids the Christian faith? Our churches work hard at constructing "children's groups" and "youth groups" for this purpose. Many (most?) churches don't even allow kids to stay in the service, at least during the sermon, because it is potentially disruptive to the service and because those children's ministry workers can do a better job of teaching your kids while they're out of the auditorium. How many families have family Bible study anymore? All because it's someone else's job to teach our kids the Christian faith. So it goes. The government would like to teach your kids. Sunday school teachers would like to teach your kids. Youth workers would like to teach your kids. Oh, and, of course, your kids' friends would certainly like to teach your kids.

Can I let you in on a little secret? It's not in the Bible. Nowhere does God's Word allow parents to abdicate their responsibilities to teach their kids. In the Old Testament, it was the parents' job to do the primary teaching in the lives of their children.
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deut 6:5-7)
Clearly this does not allow for surrendering responsibility to others. It doesn't even allow for a break. "When you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise." Non-stop. And in the New Testament God did not command, "Teachers and youth workers, bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." No, that was fathers (Eph 6:4).

We're losing this battle these days partly because we're buying this lie, perpetrated by the world and even by our churches, that we can make others responsible for our kids. We don't teach them. We don't choose who does. We don't monitor what they're taught. We don't insure that it is proper or complete. We don't do it continuously. We don't monitor their friends. We don't see to it that we are the primary influence on their lives. We've abdicated our God-given responsibility. We tie our hands with public education and with church age-based segregation and with methods of discipline and with social interactions for our kids and with "letting them be themselves" (because what could be more important than that?), and then we wonder why they're not going the way we wanted them to go. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not be.

You've heard it said, "Quality time is more important than quantity time." The fact is you don't get to determine what "quality time" is. The best remedy is to have a large quantity of time with your kids with the certainty that some of that will be better quality than others. But we must not surrender our God-given responsibility to train up our children in the way they should go. Not even if we're directed to do so by our local church. We need to teach our kids. Do it first by example. Then with words and deeds. And don't stop. It's your calling from God.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Grammar Nazis

Perhaps you've heard of the "grammar Nazis". Or perhaps it's the "grammar police". You know the types. Their intent is to correct how you say what you write. Don't mess up the language. It just won't do.

I recently saw a story about two brothers who have made it their calling to correct grammar. Oh, not just any grammar. One is focused solely on "comprised of" while the other is bent on "based around". That's it. The former spent years correcting every entry of "comprised of" in Wikipedia and continues the job to this day to keep it up. (Okay, not every entry.) I saw the story because my wife thought I'd enjoy it. "You like that kind of stuff." Yes ... and no.

Those odd brothers and I have two different aims. I am concerned about language and its use not for correct grammar, but for communication. I do spend time reading, proofreading, correcting, looking up, and verifying my own writing, not so the grammar and spelling are correct, but so that it won't detract from what I'm saying.

I saw a story the other day somewhere on some controversial subject. (I think it was an item on ABC Family's new "reality" show about life for a kid whose dad was planning to reassign his gender. Because kids need to know how to deal with this situation in their own lives. Seriously, ABC Family?) I was disappointed by the number of comments aimed at "Your argument is without merit because you misspelled x or didn't capitalize properly." I'm sure you've seen it. A form of ad hominem. "Your argument is false because I don't like you."

I don't want to do that. I want to communicate without obfuscation. So I try to avoid obscuring (the meaning of "obfuscation" ... you know, just for humor's sake) things with poor grammar, bad spelling, or other unnecessary issues. It's not about "the great value of the English language." It's about communication. Using as an example my most common complaint on the use of language these days, I want to say "married" and be understood rather than having the word mean something completely different than what I intended (as it does today).

Communication is difficult at best. Poor grammar and bad spelling don't go very far in improving it. Neither does redefining or undefining the language we speak. That is why it concerns me. I'll overlook your spelling and grammar if you're getting across something to say. I hope you'll do the same for me.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Problem of Problems

We, as a race, like safety and security. We like peace and comfort. If there is to be conflict, let it be on TV, not in my neighborhood. Better yet, let it be some fictional TV event and we can all watch like the audiences of gladiator battles in ancient Rome and be safe and entertained. Just don't bring it to my house.

When we encounter a disruption to our sense of safety and security, we often take measures ... drastic measures. In small terms, it used to be that no one locked their front doors because no one had a sense that they weren't safe if the door was closed, but we all lock our doors now. In larger terms, when terrorists flew aircraft into American buildings, we surrendered a great deal of personal freedom in exchange for a greater sense of safety and even termed it "The Patriot Act so we felt like we were safe and patriotic in doing so. Now (as an example) Arizonans are faced with not being able to get on an airplane because their driver's licenses don't meet new federal guidelines ... put in place for your safety.

The question is how far we will go for safety and security. Benjamin Franklin said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Now, he's not saying all liberty regardless of security. He spoke of "a little temporary safety". But we don't often do that evaluation, do we? No, like sheep, we see the crowd running for safety and we all go along. And without even paying attention we sacrifice liberty without even gaining temporary safety. Our aircraft are hardly safer now than before 9/11. We're still wrestling with terrorists, and they're showing up in our own backyard. The president recently assured us that "there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change." How much freedom will we surrender to solve that crisis? When we're assured that conservative Christians are a threat to society because they won't cater gay weddings, how much freedom will we surrender to solve that crisis? And so it goes. Problems can be real problems.

On the other hand, James says we should "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." (James 1:2-3) Indeed, there have been lots of benefits from crises. Most of the New Testament was written to address error in the Church. The doctrine of the Trinity was clearly stated at the Council of Nicaea not because it was new then, but because it was challenged. The canon of Scripture was laid out because of those who tried to make something else Scripture. Paul declared, "I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor 12:10)

Problems abound. It's the nature of our existence. And we humans tend to surrender much good in order to gain freedom from problems. It is often a poor trade. On the other hand, God clearly uses problems in order to accomplish His plans. Perhaps surrender isn't the best option. Perhaps embracing the difficulty works better. Perhaps.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Language Problems

As the Supreme Court debates the merits of the case of whether or not marriage has a definition, I find myself in a growing confusion over language. As post-modernism continues to soak into society, undefining so many of our words, I find it harder and harder to communicate. It's like the whole Tower of Babel thing (Gen 11:1-9) all over again. We think we're speaking the same language, but we're not.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this redefining and undefining process is in its sexual nature. So many words once meant one thing and have now come to mean something exclusively sexual. Let me give you a prime example. I like to read older books. In these older books we find the English language as it once was. So, for instance, an event might happen like this. A somber fellow walks into a gathering centered around a mirthful man. The two have a brief conversation that ends when the serious man shouts, "Fool!" at his laughing associate and storms out of the room. Plain enough? Well, in other times, it could have been described like this. "After brief but intense intercourse, he ejaculated in the face of the gay man." Clearly if I were to use that description today, nothing that I said would have been understood as I meant it. And that's just a single example. One woman argued that loving God was sexual in nature because "Haven't you read how Jonathan Edwards often speaks of intercourse with God?" It appears that we live in an entire world of double entendre where almost anything and everything has sexual overtones. It is said, "To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled." (Titus 1:15) That's the world in which we live. (As further proof, I have to be careful not to use the standard three-letter abbreviation when referencing Paul's epistle to Titus because someone will take that somewhere they should not.)

Look at these changes. I'm sure you're already aware of the redefinition (or, more precisely, the "undefinition" of "marriage". But there is so much more. "Tolerance" once meant "recognizing and allowing differences" and now means "embracing someone else's view", the opposite of tolerance. "Love" once was warm affection and now assumes a much more sexual content. "Hate", on the other hand, meant "devalues" in biblical terms but became "detest" in more modern terms. Now it means "doesn't agree with." "Rights" used to refer to God-given, just claims but now refers to whatever entitlements people think they have. And when did a "fine" become "tax"? "Diversity" is only "diversity" in its original sense when it excludes those who are not in current favor ... which is the opposite of "diversity". Just a few examples.

Then there are the additions. There is "meatspace", a reference to the real world as opposed to the virtual world, because everyone knows the virtual world is real. Oh, wait, that's not right. Believe it or not, "lookie-likie" is a word in the Oxford English Dictionary. It means "a lookalike", because "lookalike" is so difficult to use and understand. "Best friends" worked okay, but now we have "besties" or, shorter, "BBFs". And, lest a gender be shortchanged, they added "heroine-worship" because you might have thought that "hero-worship" only referred to males. All this for 2015. And lots more. "Honest-like" refers to someone who appears honest but isn't. Thus, "honest-like" is "not honest". "Monogamish" is not monogamous, but tries to sound like it. "Truthy", like "honest-like", only sounds truthful but isn't. And the terms to which they're related deteriorate.

Of course, some of this is somewhat to be expected and understood. English is not a dead language. It is a living language. Things change. The word, "homosexual", didn't even exist in the English language until it was coined in 1868. And why would any English user need a word to describe a vehicle that moves under its own power ("automobile") before such a vehicle existed. That's all understandable. New words will come. And meanings will shift. Okay. But when simple, straightforward language between people becomes no longer intelligible, we are, indeed, seeing a modern Babel. Language is for communicating. In far too many cases, now, it doesn't. So while we wrangle about the ramifications of an idea, it turns out that we may not even be talking about the same idea. Because we have language problems. Lots of them.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Romans Road

Paul's epistle to Rome is a bit unusual among his other epistles. All the others were written to churches he visited, maybe even founded. Rome, on the other hand, was not. He was introducing himself to a place he hadn't yet visited, but planned to. In that intro to his self-introduction he writes,
I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith." (Rom 1:13-17)
Paul says right up front that he was "a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." (Rom 1:1) No equivocation. No grand calling. A servant of Christ with a message ("apostle"), the gospel. Whose? The gospel of God. It's interesting, then, that more than once Paul refers to "my gospel" (Rom 2:16; Rom 16:25; 2 Tim 2:8). Some would like you to think that's because Paul's gospel was different than, say, the gospel according to Christ. (Seriously, there are those that make that argument.) Not so. Paul's gospel was "the gospel of God" (Rom 1:1; Rom 15:16; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thess 2:2-9) and "the gospel of Christ" (Rom 15:19; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; 2 Cor 9:13; 2 Cor 10:14; Gal 1:7; Phil 1:27; 1 Thess 3:2). So Paul is there to give the gospel he owns, the gospel assigned to him by God, the gospel of which he was the steward. He was giving it to a group of people he had never met. So he had better lay it out plainly. And he does.

The Bad News
"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12)

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:23)

The wages of sin is death. (Rom 6:23)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. (Rom 1:18)
The bad news is really bad. (Without bad news, good news is not good.) The bad news is that we are all sinners, without the ability to redeem ourselves, having properly earned eternal death under the wrath of God.

The Solution
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)

While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:6)
The solution is simple and straightforward, yet vast in its contemplation. God sent His Son to die for us, the ungodly. In the face of the demands of justice, God answered with the substitution of His sinless Son. This was "for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:26) Justice demanded death. The One who didn't owe it paid it. Justice was met and we could be justified.

The Response
To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom 4:5)

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom 10:9)

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Rom 10:13)
Since God is not obligated to anyone to save them, there is a response necessary. It isn't harsh or difficult. It is the response of open faith. This faith is "confessed"--admitted to. That's it. A confidence in the death of Christ that saves.

The Good News
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1)
The good news, then, is that despite the certainty of eternal death, God provided a solution so that, at the point of our faith, we are no longer under condemnation. No, wait ... the good news is much bigger than that.
We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:28-39)
My friends, that is the fabled "Romans Road". And that is the Gospel! There could hardly be better news than that.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Dysphoria

They have their own website. It's called Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID). Here's how they describe it.
When a person's idea of how they should look does not match their actual physical form, it can be caused by Body Integrity Identity Disorder. This condition affects a small percentage of the population and is commonly manifested by a desire to have an amputation of a specific body part. In most cases, the limb that the person would like to remove is actually in healthy working order and there are no physical problems with it.
That's the idea. Good working parts, but the owner thinks they shouldn't be there, so he/she would like them removed. It's a sickness, an illness, a mental problem. It needs to be fixed. There are various treatments, but none of them includes amputating the offending part.

It's called "dysphoria". The opposite of "euphoria", the word is basically defined as "a feeling of emotional and/or mental discomfort, restlessness, malaise, and depression." Of course, you may not have heard the term, but recently it has become more visible because it is often used with an adjective--"gender dysphoria". That is, "I'm not happy with my birth gender and feel like my body doesn't match my actual gender." Oh, wait. That's different from BIID in what way?

I'm trying to imagine how this would work in any other application. I am a human, but I feel like I should be an eagle. We'll call it "species dysphoria". And we'll see what medical science can do to make me more ... "eagley". (Is it possible to misspell a made-up word?) Maybe they can get me some wings to attach? Perhaps a beak? I can start right away living in trees and maybe wearing feathers. Of course, no doctor, psychological or medical, would take me up on this. Because everyone would understand that it's not right. Not immoral. Sick and wrong. A person who suffers from "species dysphoria" is not treated by changing species (just as impossible as actually changing genders). And don't even begin to consider "racial dysphoria". Because "I feel like" is not sufficient in the normal world to classify it as real. Unless, of course, it is gender dysphoria. Now that, unlike ever other version, is fine. Even brave.

Over at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Greg Gibson wrote about How should the Church Respond to the Transgender Question?. Helpful thoughts, to be sure, but the real answer ought to be, "Tell them they, like you and I, need Jesus." Because they are sick. And so are we. And cutting off body parts or undefining gender in order to make you feel better is not, in the long run, going to help. Like me, they need Jesus. Let's not get lost on the "dysphoria" canard. What's sick is the sin condition. We can all work on our faulty thinking and feelings after that.

Friday, May 01, 2015

What Difference Does It Make?

The question that wins the argument: "How would gay marriage affect you and your marriage?" End of discussion. Point: "gay marriage". Or is it?

The question, as it turns out, is ludicrous. Think about it. The question is irrelevant. The relevant questions, like "Is it right?" or "Is it rational?" or even "Is it moral?" are set aside and the question is about a very limited effect. Here, think about this obvious contrast. Let's say that there was a measure up to legalize polyamory. Any number of people could marry any number of people. Is this not the same question? "How would that affect you and your marriage?" And it wouldn't, would it? No, go even sillier. Now there is a move to allow marrying inanimate objects. Again, "How would that affect you and your marriage?" What is the point of the question? How does it affect me and my marriage if people do stupid things and call it "marriage"? It doesn't. My marriage is my marriage. So the short-term effect is not the question.

Still, there are answers to the question. There are certain, likely, or potential outcomes to consider. I have four primary effects to suggest[1].

First, as we already know, marriage is in trouble in general. More and more people are opting out, either before they get into it or after. Divorce rates are high. Cohabitation (shacking up) rates are high. It is not uncommon to hear, "Why does a little piece of paper make a difference?" Clearly it does (or the whole question wouldn't be in the marketplace of ideas), but marriage is weaker today than it has ever been. According to the CDC just in this century marriage rates in America have dropped from 8.2 per 1,000 people to 6.8 per 1,000 people. Even the Huffington Post reported that marriage rates are at historic lows. Enter this new thing. Already marriage is on the verge of merely being an emotional attachment. We "marry for love" and when that is gone, we stop being married. That's not how it ought to be. That's not what it used to be. That's not what all of history and most of the major world's religions think of it. (And if you think I'm being too alarmist, it has already been proposed that 2-year renewable marriage licenses be issued to cut down on divorce problems.) Marriage is the union, physical and emotional, of a man and a woman with an eye toward children. It is the ideal family unit. It is the functional propagation of the species, the optimum environment for producing and raising children. But, look, let's strip that off, okay? Tina Turner asked, "What's love got to do with it?" We'll ask, "What have kids got to do with it?" And when we, as a society, push propagation out the back window of marriage and usher in "marry for love", it's a paradigm shift. No longer are spouses to maintain an unbroken relationship of commitment and cooperation for the family. Instead, it's a commitment to my emotions first. While traditional marriage brings social pressure to bear to keep couples and families together, redefining it will further ease that pressure and just let things dissolve as they may. Two of the worst things that have happened to marriage are contraception and "no-fault" divorce. One put families on hold, sometimes indefinitely, and the other made ending a lifelong commitment an easy thing. This new definition will simply push it that much further ... on both points.

Second, parenting is in jeopardy today. The skyrocketing rates of single parents is, frankly, frightening. Absentee fathers are a big problem, but mothers today are following similar trends, with more and more women making the news for killing or abusing their children. And why not? We are told that we need to find ourselves, to seek our own happiness. So why let those brats get in the way? Still, we all know that the best possible arrangement for raising children is a stable, mother-father, husband-wife home. There really is no question of that. And recent studies find, shock of shocks, that children fare better in traditional mom-dad families while same-sex parenting may have its risks. I know, I know, the American Psychological Association (APA) came out with its own study a short while ago and assured us that children of same-sex couples did just fine. Well, as it turns out, that whole study seems to be in question now. Enter a new definition of "married". Now the law will require that no regard be given to "husband-wife" marriages over "same-sex" unions ... because they're the same, right? Isn't that the point? They're the same? And then, as obscured as good parenting has become in recent decades, the ideal gets further obscured. The message is clear. Same-sex couples are just as good, just as appropriate, just as ideal as any other couple might be. And now it's the children who take the hit.

Third, we know that America is built on freedom and we know that this freedom includes, at its core, the freedom of religion. This very freedom, however, has caused a difficulty. Americans tend to confuse "equal protection" with "equal validity". Trying to suggest that, while all religions are protected under the law, not all are equally valid will likely get you into a fight. You're narrow-minded, judgmental, intolerant. Never mind that it's the only logical possibility. It's still wrong. Now throw in a governmental ruling on a moral issue that makes the moral issue not only legal, but endorsed. Say goodbye to your religious freedoms in the area of moral issues. And don't consider this a slippery slope argument because it's happening already. In Massachusetts Catholic Charities had to give up its adoption services because they would be required to ignore their principles in regard to placing children with same-sex couples. A student in California was banned from school for stating an opinion about the morality of homosexual behavior. A Court of Appeals in Massachusetts ruled that public schools may teach that homosexual relations are moral without regard for parental disagreement. A New Mexico photographer was sued and lost because she wasn't willing to do photos for a same-sex commitment ceremony. Oh, it's no nebulous slippery slope. It's happening. When the State rules that "marriage" now includes "same-sex" couples the fundamental freedom of religion and your right to express yourself on matters of morality will begin to see their legal end. And that's without even considering the tide of public opinion. It is already a "certainty" that if you stand for traditional marriage, you only do so out of hate and bigotry. It's a lie, but that kind of thinking is becoming more and more dominant and we would expect it to get worse, not better, if the State rules against traditional marriage.

The fourth issue is the change of the norm. When we changed from divorce to "no-fault divorce", the change wasn't simply to make things easier for people. The change produced a fundamental impression of what was normal. It became common to divorce simply because one or the other parties wanted the relationship to end. So no longer was a marriage "for life"; it was just until we decided we didn't want it anymore. The only reason required for divorce was "irreconcilable differences", which could mean just about anything at all. This is just an example of the shift of norm that the changing of laws produces. Adultery was once illegal just about everywhere, but over time we've dropped those laws. The upshot is that adultery has become viewed as relatively normal. Laws have been enacted to give unmarried couples the same rights as married couples and today the general sense is that not only is "shacking up" normal, it is recommended ... despite all the studies to the contrary. By changing the definition of marriage by force of law, we will have our sense of "normal" shifted again.

There are consequences to these things. It may look as if it won't matter. I will remain married to my wife in the same way that I always have, and I will continue to teach my children (okay, they're grown -- make it "grandchildren") right and wrong regardless of what my society says is moral. I will certainly lose some freedom of religion, but the Bible assures me that the animosity of the world is to be expected. And the world around me will continue to shift "normal morality" to match the changes. I have to point out, however, that all of this misses a very important point. Consider a situation that we all agree would be bad. What if they legalized heroin use? The same argument could be used. "Why would you care? How will it affect you?" And, in truth, it wouldn't in the sense that I still wouldn't be taking heroin, legal or not. On the other hand, it would have a large effect. Crime would change, and not necessarily for the better. Attitudes toward heroin use would change. There would be more users, more addicts, and more of the effects that such things cause. Society, then, would be paying for the impact of this new legal addiction. And the change would be permanent. Like Prohibition, it's not possible to put that genie back in the bottle. Legalizing heroin, it might be argued, won't change my life, but it will. It will change the face of the society in which I live and have multiple ramifications that will impact everyone, user or not. Even so with this radical redefinition of marriage. Sure, I'll remain married to my wife in the way I always have, but life will change for everyone in ways that not everyone recognizes will be unpleasant. The face of families will change. The face of parenting will change. The face of religious freedom will change. The face of normal morality will change. And those who would wish to affect change from these changes will be outlawed. Like putting toothpaste back into the tube.
________
[1] I say "suggest", but, in fact, these are mostly derived from the effects already present in other countries where marriage was legally redefined to include two people of the same sex. All of these are already occurring in Canada, for instance. There is no reason we shouldn't anticipate the same. And as I've often said, a "slippery slope fallacy" is not a fallacy if it is already happening.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Motivation

There is a passage of Scripture that most of us have heard that comes from, of all places, Ezekiel. We've heard it because it's so heartwarming. (Wait for it. There's a joke there.)
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules. (Ezek 36:26-27)
(Get it? "Heart of flesh". "Heartwarming". Oh, never mind.)

I'm sure you've heard that before. It's about the glorious promise of God to replace our dead hearts with live ones, to implant us with His Spirit so that we can walk in His way. It is truly magnificent news, the heart (so to speak) of the Gospel.

But ... did you ever ask "Why?" Why does God remove a heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh? Why does He put His Spirit in people? What is God's motivation?

Well, of course, we all know what that is, right? He loves us. God loves all of us and, loving us as He does, He wants good things for us. At least, that's what our gut tells us. Perhaps we ought to examine what the text tells us.
"Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came." (Ezek 36:22)
Oh, didn't see that coming. And, in case you missed it, like a matching bookend, He puts a reminder at the back side of this discussion.
It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways." (Ezek 36:32)
We have this problem, you see. As born rebels, we tend to think that it's all about us. And you might see why. Wasn't this entire planet and all that it entails made for us? I mean, God didn't say about anyone else, "Let Us make man in Our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Gen 1:26) Very clearly we are the top, the apex, the primary point. But why? Well, we were made for Him. And what is the key difference between these two ideas? We didn't make the world that is ours; He did.

It sounds a bit egotistical for God to say, "It's all about Me." Or it would if it weren't true. It is, however. All things were made by Him and for Him (Col 1:16). So the instant that we begin to think, "It's about us", we begin to stray from sanity. And that is why we have such a problem with God. "Oh," we complain, "He wouldn't do that!" when we're told that He ordered the deaths of men, women, and children (1 Sam 15:3) or that God makes some for honor and some for dishonor (Rom 9:21) or some other uncomfortable truth. It might be true that if we were the point, He wouldn't do that. But if He is the point--if His Name and His glory and His purposes are the point--then perhaps we had better think again about what He might or might not do. And we had better think again about why He does it, beginning with "It's not about me."

It is truly good news that God promises, plans, and carries out the removal of hearts of stone and the replacement with hearts of flesh. It is amazing grace that God places His Spirit in us to enable us to obey Him. But never forget why He does it. It's not because you're just so darn loveable. It's for His Name's sake, for His glory, for Him. And it should be.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Going at it Backwards

I remember once hearing a speaker talking about that stunning passage in Paul's first epistle to Timothy where he says that women aren't supposed to usurp authority from men (1 Tim 2:9-15). "They tell me," he said, "that if we take this passage at face value, it says we should consider women as second-class Christians." He followed that with, "Let me say one thing here before I get to the passage. If that's what it says, then we must." Now, he concluded immediately after with, "Of course, that's not what it says ..." but I found the statement to be ... disturbing.

I think a lot of times we Christians go at it backwards. Here's a very common approach. "What do I know? How do the biblical claims fit into that?" Perhaps it's what we think we know from experience. Perhaps it's what we think we know from our world, our society, our families, our culture. Perhaps it's even what we think we know from the Bible. But we often tend to take explicit texts and revise them because they don't fit in with "what we know." And I think that's backwards. Even dangerous.

Look, here's what we do know. We know the Bible is "God's Word". It is "God-breathed" (2 Tim 3:16-17). And, of course, we know that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). What else? We know that God is holy. No, not holy--"holy, holy, holy" (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8.) (Isn't it significant that "holy" is repeated thrice and the "thrice-holy" is repeated twice? Seems like an important point.) Since "holy" means "set apart" and since God is "not a man" (1 Sam 15:29; Job 9:32; 1 Cor 1:25), it follows inexorably that God is not like us. That is, if we do not find in His Word that He is different than us--sees things differently than we do, has different values than we do, has different plans than we do, and so on--then we have reason to doubt that this is actually His Word. Fortunately, we find that to be true. Unfortunately, we often discount what we see because it doesn't line up with what we think. And we're back to the problem.

Look, we need to start with God here. The Bible is His Word. What He says is true. Expect that He won't be the same as us. So ... what does it say? That's what we ought to be asking first. So if God said (He doesn't; this is just an illustration), "I actually am a flying spaghetti monster," we would be obligated to agree even if it went against our feelings and prior assumptions. Or, as that speaker in my opening example, if God said we should treat women in a way that our culture defies, we would be obligated to do it.

So when we read statements about what God is like or statements about what is true, we need to ask ourselves if we're going to go with it or put God on trial. I'm talking about explicit statements here. (Always interpret the implicit by the explicit.) So when God says that He it is His will to demonstrate His wrath and power against vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22), we are doing Him no favors to say, "Well, we don't like that idea, so let's say it's not so." When God's Word says, "The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil," (Prov 16:4), it doesn't help to say, "No, He doesn't." When we read that God ordered the deaths of a group of Amalekites--men, women, children, and their little dog, too (1 Sam 15:3)--it requires a denial of God's Word to change it. We can ask, "Why would He do that?", but to say, "No, He didn't" is simply to cancel any sort of reliable Word of God.

We need to ask ourselves this basic question. Do we want to know God and His truth for what He is and what He says, or do we wish to impose our own ideas on Him? Our natural (sinful) response is the latter. That's why I found that speaker's statement disturbing--my own sin nature. The right, reasonable, and only safe response is the former. Perhaps we ought to settle that in our minds before we seek to know God better through His Word, His God-breathed letter to us about Himself. Sure, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." (2 Tim 2:15) Sometimes that takes work. But it's worth it, and it's right, and it's the safest thing to do, even if we discover things we didn't expect about God. Because seeking to know God on our terms rather than His is sheer arrogance, and that cannot end well. And anyone who willingly argues, "God would be wrong if He did that" (whatever "that" might be) is standing on the exceedingly dangerous ground of passing judgment on the Creator of the Universe.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gay Marriage in the Bible

Any casual reader of my stuff will know that the title is misleading if only because I don't believe that such a thing as "gay marriage" actually exists. As I have repeatedly and consistently held, marriage has a definition and "two people of the same sex" cannot be included in the definition any more than "four men and three women" or "a man and his goat" or any other of a large variety of other versions. So the title is somewhat misleading because 1) I don't believe in such a thing as "gay marriage" and 2) you won't find it in the Bible, either in defense or offense. It's not mentioned. Because it doesn't exist.

In the public domain, my argument against the subject is not a biblical one. I don't argue that it's immoral. I argue that marriage means something--has always had a core definition--and this is not it. It is not the same question as the morality of homosexual relations or the like. It is the meaning of the term.

Having said that, however, Christians ought to consider the question in light of what the Bible does say on the subject of marriage.

The first mention of marriage is, of course, Adam and Eve, where "a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24) becomes the standard biblical concept. I call it "standard" because both Jesus (Matt 19:5) and Paul (Eph 5:31) refer to it as the explanation of marriage. "This is what marriage is." So at the beginning we have "man" and "woman" in union ("one flesh") for the purpose of mutual support (Gen 2:18) and procreation (Gen 1:28)[1].

After that, "marriage" becomes somewhat repetitive. That is, it simply references "husband" and "wife" (and, of course, children) ... over and over and over. Sometimes there were singular husbands with multiple wives--polygamy. But always "husband" and always "wife". Never "husbands" as in two of the same gender either married to one or more women or to each other.

It's only much later that instructions for marriage are offered. In Ephesians, for instance, Paul commands "Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord" and "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church" (Eph 5:22-33). He repeats something similar for the Colossians (Col 3:18-19). Marriage of women (to men) is assumed in most of Scripture as evidenced by the general command "train the young women to love their husbands and children" (Titus 2:4-5) or the instruction that women with questions at church should ask their husbands (1 Cor 14:35). When we come to Peter's comments on the topic, they are mostly the same ... but not quite. He tells wives, "Be subject to your own husbands" (1 Peter 3:1-6) but specifies beyond that they they should do so "even if some do not obey the word." He does not command husbands to love their wives, but, rather, to live with them in an understanding way and to honor them (1 Peter 3:7). This clearly supersedes any cultural "women are chattel" concepts as is so often falsely accused by Bible skeptics.

So, what have we learned? We've learned that there is no explicit statement in Scripture that says, "Two men cannot marry." Of course, if "a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" is the biblical concept of marriage, then "Two men cannot marry" is nonsense ... since marriage is defined for us as "man" and "woman" in union. While the text does not say, "This is God's definition of marriage", it is quite clear that the Bible sees it as such given 1) the consistent use of this description in the New Testament and 2) lack of anything else. Beyond this, we have clear instructions for married couples. We know, for instance, that despite our society's aim to subvert this concept, the Bible teaches that "the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God." (1 Cor 11:3) In fact, every marriage command is couched in "husband" and "wife" terms. Each role--husband and wife--has distinct commands (as in "the head of the wife is her husband" and "wives, submit to your husbands" as opposed to "the head of every man is Christ" and "husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way").

So, here we are. What does the Bible say about "gay marriage"? Nothing. Nothing at all. No reference, no hint, no subtle concept. Nothing. So, there are a few possibilities here. Maybe God didn't know that in the 21st century we'd be marrying men to men so He didn't have any input on that. Or maybe He knew and didn't have any commands that "husbands, submit to your husband" or "wives, submit to your wives" or otherwise. Heterosexual couples have commands; homosexual couples don't. Or maybe ... just maybe ... God defined marriage for us at the beginning and anything and everything that deviates from that is not marriage. Because trying to force "gay marriage" into anything remotely biblical on the subject is impossible, an argument from silence, completely in opposition to and incompatible with everything biblical about marriage.

So when "gay marriage" can be "husband" and "wife", "man" and "woman", a union for the purpose of mutual support and procreation like it's described in the Bible, then I'll be on board. Of course, that's just for Bible-believing Christians. The rest of you are on your own.
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[1] For those of you, Christians and skeptics, who wish to disagree with "for mutual support and procreation", let me say this. These are the aims, not the "definition". You know that. I know that. In biblical terms, a woman who was barren in Scripture was still married. She didn't like being barren, but it didn't dissolve the union. By the same token, if a wife ends up taking care of her husband after a traumatic brain injury, for instance, we wouldn't suggest he is no longer married because he is not offering mutual support. It's the aim, but not the definition. Thus, defining marriage as "the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of mutual support and procreation" works fine as long as we understand that "the purpose" in that statement doesn't require success, just intent. A husband who marries with no intention of offspring or a wife who marries with no expectation that she'll be supportive of her husband (examples, mind you) are not entering into a marriage that is the same aim as the biblical marriage.