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Sunday, April 29, 2007

In Remembrance

A programming note: I will be joining other bloggers tomorrow in observing a day of blogging silence to remember those who lost their lives at Virginia Tech. Regular blogging will resume on the 1st of May. (May Day! May Day!) Just letting people know I didn't vanish, there are no problems, and all is well with the world (so to speak).

At The Cross

Verse 1
Alas, and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?

At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away.
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.

Verse 2
Was it for crimes that I have done He suffered on that tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree!

Verse 4
But drops of grief can ne'er repay the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away. 'Tis all that I can do!
Isaac Watts was one of the more prolific hymn writers. "At the Cross" was written in the early 1700's and reflects a clear understanding of who God is, sharply contrasted with who we are. (The chorus was added later.)

The first verse sets the tone for the entire attitude of the song. Note, first of all, the names applied to Christ: Savior and Sovereign. On the personal side He is the Savior, the One who has redeemed me. On the universal side He is Sovereign, the Ultimate Ruler of all. It is only by facing God in truth that we can see ourselves in truth.

We have replaced the truth of God and His character with our own faulty opinions. When we substitute anything less than God for God, it is called idolatry. But when we diminish God, we are no longer able to accurately measure our own sinfulness. We can no longer see the depths of our depravity. Isaac Watts had a clear picture of this Sovereign who could rightly demand perfection, as well as his own distance from that standard. That we no longer see either clearly is evidenced in the current rendition of the hymn. Watts recognized himself as a worm in view of God's Sovereignty and holy nature. Our hymnals changed the line to read "...someone such as I." We don't know who God is anymore, and we are unable to recognize the depths of our depravity.

Where can we get the insight that we seem to lack? "At the cross," the hymn says. What a mind-boggling revelation it is to actually realize that this sovereign Savior, this Holy One ("sacred") died for me! In the hymn, this revelation comes by faith, by placing confidence in that truth. The result, he says, is happiness. What is happiness? Happiness is the perception that circumstances are good. Note the word "perception." Circumstances could be good, but we might perceive them as bad. Circumstances could be neutral, but we might perceive them as good. Perception is not necessarily truth. Is his perception truth? Are circumstances good? How can they not be? My Sovereign died for me! The Ruler of the universe loved me enough to give His life for me. Furthermore, because of who God is, that is, sovereign, He can say that all things work together for my good. (Romans 8:28) Therefore, any perception other than this is false.

Today's worldly, psychologized theology would warn Watts not to write the second verse. He was already in trouble with them for the comment about being a worm. "Now," they'd say, "let's not dwell on the past. You know, leaving behind the old..." But he uses his clear picture of his own sinfulness ("crimes") to catapult him further into adoring God. Beyond this, his use of the term "crimes" displays an awareness of the true nature of sin. Sin is not "doing bad things" or a character flaw. They are not mere mistakes, slip-ups. We are not "little lost lambs," but rather rebels with weapons in hand. Sin is criminal, a transgression against God, a crime; specifically, sin is the ultimate treason against the Sovereign Lord. Look through a thesaurus sometime, and you will find some good words for it. An offense, a violation, an outrage, villainy. But, not having committed any such crime, Christ suffered and died on my place anyway. Suddenly the mercy and grace and love of God exceed our comprehension. (Eph. 3:17-19) We can only glimpse the surface of God's incomprehensible love.

The fourth verse is the application phase. We have seen that God is sovereign. We have seen that we are worms. We see that we are criminals deserving death whose crimes are paid for. Now what? No amount of remorse will cover it. Watt calls it a "debt of love." This debt of love is the basis of Christian attitudes and actions. Because of my love for this great God, I want to please Him. How is that done? All I can do is give myself away.

Giving my self away is an unpopular concept in our culture. Self-esteem is a growing cult in the church. "I'm okay, you're okay" is the "healthy" viewpoint. We are all trying to take better care of ourselves. But God, and this hymn, stands in direct opposition to this. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves. (Matt. 16:24) Paul says to reckon ourselves as dead. (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:1-5) Paul calls on us, in view of the sovereignty of God (Rom. 8-11), to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. (Rom. 12:1) Despite our culture, it is the only reasonable choice when we recognize who we are, who God is, and what He has done for us.

We, in the modern-day church, are sadly lacking a clear view of God and a clear view of sin. We have substituted a diminished image of God and an enhanced image of ourselves. We need to return to the cross. We need to live there. We need to see Who hung there. We need to recall why He hung there. We need to respond in sacrifice of self. We desperately need a renewing of the mind, a transformation, a shaking off of our conformity to the world. (Rom. 12:2) A Christianity that is palatable to the world will not be palatable to God.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Be Still, My Soul

Be still, my soul! The Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul! Thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Written by Katharina von Schlegel in 1752, the hymn displays a trust in a God almost unheard of today. Why? What did she know that we have lost?

One of the most common commands to action in Scripture is "Wait." "Stand firm." "Be still." These are all the same concept. Why? "Be still, and know that I am God." In knowing God there is peace. Why? Because of who He is, but also because He is at your side.

How did Katharina von Schlegel view God? To her He was present and personal. She saw order and provision, and she saw Him as the sole source of order and provision. She saw Him as immutable and faithful, an anchor in a stormy world. She saw Him as the best possible choice, as a real friend, and wise enough to know the course to true joy.

Just as important as her view of God was her view of life. How she saw God directly impacted how she saw life. She saw that life was difficult, painful -- in her terms, a cross. But to her it was nothing to either deny or shrink from. Because her all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God was at her side, she could bear patiently and allow God to order her world and provide for her needs.

Even here we lose our way. Of course, we say, God will provide for our needs. But we mean something entirely different than God does in His promise for provision. We have turned to a God who will give us what we want rather than to a God to whom we must surrender ourselves. We believe that He is there to satisfy us. David Wells says that we have learned this in our American consumer mentality. "In the marketplace, everything is for us, for our pleasure, for our satisfaction, and we have come to assume that it must be so in the church as well."1 The current prevalent belief is that God is there for our indulgence, and when he fails to give us what we want, He is no longer our friend. "We imagine that for those who love God and are called according to his purpose, all things work together for their satisfaction and the inner tranquility of their lives." But the fact is that God has promised suffering - because He loves us and wants the best for us. He will meet the needs He knows we have. He will use difficult circumstances to provide for our good. But it is only when we recognize the loving character of God that we can face harsh conditions with joy, knowing that He has our utmost in mind.

Katharina's viewpoints are vastly different from the average Christian today. While we speak of an omnipotent, omniscient, loving, wise God, we tremble at the slightest disturbance in life. It is said that you are motivated by what you believe, and our motivation is self-preservation because we don't really believe that God is capable or reliable. It seems that most of us don't know the God that Katharina knew. We need to. We need to see Him in history, see Him in our experience, see Him in His Word, and see Him in others. We will be unable to reflect Him if we never view Him, never see Him as He is. It is the reflection of Him that is our goal. And when we view Him as He is, we can choose to proceed through painful circumstances, standing on His capabilities and love, and obtaining the prize He had in mind for us, perfection.
Be still, my soul! Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake.
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul! The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
The question of God's sovereignty has been a raging debate in the church throughout the years. Is God really in charge? What about predestination? Where does man's free will come into play? The real question is, is God truly sovereign?

The hymnist looks to His sovereignty as an ultimate anchor. "Be still, my soul! Thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past." A key to the confidence we can have in God is in that simple sentence. How can we be sure God will "guide the future?" Because He has guided the past (Isa. 25:1). We see it in history. We see it in Scripture. We see it in our own lives. The fact is God's track record, whether we recognize it or not, is absolutely perfect.

It is God who we trust. It is His character, His proven character, in which we have confidence. We trust His goodness to do good. We trust His omniscience to know what that is and all that it entails. We trust His omnipotence to carry out His plans. When we fear anything or anyone other than God, we are saying, "I'm not sure You can be trusted here, God."

The author had another source of confidence in God. She looked to the scriptural record. We can be still in our souls because of the proof in Scripture. Her prime example is Jesus calming the storm (Mark 4:35-41). The passage says Jesus rebuked the wind and sea, and it became perfectly calm. The reaction of the disciples was increased fear, for real terror is the presence of the Holy with the unholy. If we know God, circumstances are inconsequential because they are in His hands. It is God we must fear (Deut. 4:10; Psa. 111:10; Eccl. 8:12; 12:13; Heb. 10:31).
Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone -
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
It is fascinating to me the consistent forward look of hymn writers. A majority of their songs and poems look to our ultimate union with God, either in His return or our death. Is this because of their great sorrow in life? Are they all suicidal? I don't think so. I think it is because of the immense joy set before them in the presence of God.

Most hymns point to God at work. There is great confidence in His work here and now. But to be with Him, united, perfect! Indeed, I believe it is this forward look that helped them toward their views of God. To recognize the here and now as satisfactory is possible because of who God is (Phil. 4:11-13). To see this as temporary makes it all the more enjoyable (Phil. 1:21-24). And anticipating being in God's presence in the future prevents too great an attachment to the present (Matt. 6:19-21). What cause to rejoice - to be someday in the presence of God!

Katharina ties it all together in this last verse. "Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored." Why be still? Because then, ultimately, the uncertainties and pains of life will be gone. We will know safety and blessing. "Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known." (1 Cor. 13:12)

What cause to be still? In a word, God. His faithfulness and providence, His love and sovereignty, and the absolute certainty of being with Him. Be still, my soul!

1 David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland, pp. 114 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994)

Friday, April 27, 2007

How Great Thou Art

O Lord, my God, when I, in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee,
"How great Thou art! How great Thou art!"
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee,
"How great Thou art! How great Thou art!"
This (one of my all-time favorites) was originally a poem entitled "O Store Gud" written by a Swedish pastor after experiencing the might of God's nature in a thunderstorm and the beauty of God's nature in the forest and stream he speaks of in the second verse. He wrote it in 1886, but it was translated in the 1930's by a missionary to Russia, Reverend Stuart K. Hine. Reverend Hine added the third verse in Russia, and the fourth in England.

The song is a prayer. One of the fascinating aspects of this prayer is that there are no requests. It is a prayer of adoration. This is almost unheard of in our time. We are a generation of self-centered people who defend and encourage self-centered attitudes and actions. We are the focal point of our own universe. Even in our prayers we are asking God for what we want, for what would make us happy. This prayer focuses entirely on God and His greatness.

Let's listen in as the hymnist talks to God. Note first the address: "O Lord, my God." "Lord" speaks of God's sovereignty, His lordship. In theological terms, it speaks of the transcendence of God, the God above all.

"Lord" isn't a familiar term to modern day Americans. We are an independent nation that worships freedom and independence. We prefer not to recognize anyone as master over us. We have no present-day role to use as an example of the meaning of the term. But we must learn to recognize -- "realize" (that is, to make that which is true real to ourselves) -- that God is Lord. This isn't an opinion. This isn't an option. Any view that strays from the position of God's absolute sovereignty is in error.

The second aspect of the address, "O Lord, my God," is the term "my". To call Him God is correct. There is none other. He is the one and only God. But the term "my" personalizes the relationship between God, the Sovereign, and me. Theologically, this speaks to His immanence.

Martin Luther said that Christianity is a religion of personal pronouns. We constantly read expressions like "my God," "My people," "my Lord." This points to the personal facet of God, the amazing truth that God is interested in me. No other religion in the world carries this concept of personal relationship. But Jesus said that God knows the number of hairs on my head. That's personal. He wants us to know Him. That's astonishing. We can pray with Moses, "Teach me Thy ways, O Lord, that I might know Thee." (Exo. 33:18-23)

The prayer goes on to recognize God through creation. This is a common occurrence in Scripture (e.g., Psa. 19; Rom. 1:20). All of creation points to its Maker. All created things bear the fingerprints of their Creator.

One consideration of nature is "worlds". The word covers many concepts. Above us there are a myriad of galaxies, stars, solar systems -- worlds. But in the microscopic level there are chemical structures made up of molecular structures comprised of atomic structures -- worlds. In our world there are food chains, life cycles, ecosystems, weather patterns -- worlds. God’s hands, the hymnist says, made each of these. (This takes us back to the personal God.) And each of these, as in the thunderstorm, is a picture of God's power.

The only reasonable response to a glimpse of this sovereign, yet personal, transcendent, yet immanent God is, "How great Thou art!" The hymnist sings it with his innermost being, his soul. The soul encompasses one's mind, will, and emotions. A glimpse of God must impact us at these deepest of levels, or it wasn't real. The soul turned toward God has no room for self.
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Paul says "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) The recurring theme of God's love appears all through Scripture (e.g., John 3:16; Phil. 2:5-11; Rom. 8:32). It seems, however, that we have taken that grace for granted, as if we somehow deserve God's love. The hymnist didn't see it that way. "I scarce can take it in," was his thought.

Romans says that God was perfectly willing to reveal His glory by demonstrating His wrath (Rom. 9:22). We have gone to great effort to earn His wrath (Romans 6:23). We are, according to Scripture, God-haters (Rom. 8:7; James 4:4). Yet, Christ demonstrated grace - unmerited favor - on the cross. If I have personal worth, intrinsic value, then there is no grace. He merely practiced wise economy. But the fact is Christ died for us because He wanted to, not because I was so valuable.

"On the cross . . . He bled and died." Crucifixion was the worst way to die. Physically, it was designed for the utmost in pain and torture without immediate death. The whipping, the nails, the continuous physical torture of merely breathing while every bone came out of joint, all designed for slow death. Emotionally, it was devised to humiliate. It was a public torture in which the criminal carried his own instrument of death. He hung naked on the cross in front of all that watched. But the only record of Christ crying out was at the spiritual torment of the cross. At the moment of separation from His Father, He cried, "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" He had never been separated from God. He had never known sin. Yet He became sin for us.

Perhaps most remarkable about that day on the cross was the simple, inescapable fact that Jesus chose to do it. No one required it of Him. He could have said, "No." The hymnist recognized this fact. "My burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin."

How can we see this and not answer with the writer, "Then sings my soul, 'How great Thou art!'" When we take for granted the immense love and grace demonstrated on the cross, we display our ignorance and self-centeredness.
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, "My God, how great Thou art!"
The last verse is a common concept among hymn-writers. Many hymns looked to the return of Christ, to the day that we would be with Him. It was a joyous thought. The prospect of being in the presence of the Almighty God, the company of our Lord and Savior, was too wonderful to imagine.

We were designed for that condition. It was Adam's original condition in the garden, walking with God. We are incomplete here without that fellowship, so we immerse ourselves in spurious pursuits to fill that void. Meanwhile, Jesus promised to prepare for our arrival (John 14:2,3). What delight to know that He is anticipating our coming! Would that we would see it with such joy.

Hine had no misconceptions about that day. We have ideas of sightseeing in heaven or visiting with biblical characters. He saw his proper response to God's presence as bowing in "humble adoration." Bowing to anyone is not a popular concept in our culture. We are proud people who defer to no one. But Scripture readily reveals that this is the most common position of anyone who came in contact with God. We have failed to see the difference between coming boldly into the presence of God and coming arrogantly into the presence of God. That we can stand in His proximity at all should utterly amaze us. Somehow we have contracted a cavalier attitude that God is some "big guy" upstairs who winks at our sin because He loves us. We mustn't fall into that thought trap.

The hymn is aptly titled, "How Great Thou Art!" It speaks of God's sovereignty as Lord - His transcendence - as well as his personal care for us - His immanence. In it we see Him as the joy of our souls and the sole worthy focus of our hearts. And we see ourselves as needy, sinful people. We see the need to turn the eyes of our souls to Him. He must increase, and I must decrease.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Precious Lord

For centuries in the church, the song of choice was the classic hymn. In the 1960's, a new type of song began to gain ground. Today we call it the chorus or praise song. And today it is the song preferred by most churches.

Choruses are often written straight from Scripture. Verses from the Psalms are particularly popular. Others express the writer's deep personal affection for God. They come in all varieties, all styles, and with an assortment of messages. They are, for the most part, easily learned, easily memorized, and easily sung.

Choruses have their place. They are quick to bring to mind a Scripture that we may have difficulty memorizing or to redirect our thoughts to God. But these songs tend to be brief, and, therefore, shallow. They don't deal deeply with the subjects they surface. Many lean toward feelings about God rather than truth, and toward what He can do for me rather than who He is. They tend to be, in the words of Hebrews, milk rather than meat.

Hymns are sometimes bulkier songs with more verses, harder words, and more complex melodies. They require deeper thought and closer attention. Many were written in a different time with a different language. But they seem to delve further into the truths of God, who He is, and how that would affect me. They are from a different culture than the modern day "ME generation," and seem to be less infected with that disabling malady. They aren't concerned with political correctness or the therapeutic conventions of modern society. They aren't troubled over my self-esteem or feelings. They aren't afraid to ask the listener to think or to stand in the presence of God and see truth.

We need this meat. The church is in disrepair largely because we in modern America won't think, won't take the time to look, listen, or hear the word of God. We have the right opinions of God, but we don't have the right heart, the right passion for Him. Hymns have the capacity to touch that passion.

Because of this, some years ago I started undertaking this little project to see what can be learned about God, truth, and all that it touches as displayed in hymns. I picked some of my favorite ones and examined what I saw there. I thought I'd write a book about it, perhaps. Well, being the self-disciplined (apparently not) guy that I am, I never finished it. And being the self-confident (obviously not) guy that I am, I figured "Who would actually want to read something like this?"

I personally enjoyed what I did finish and others who have read it enjoyed it as well, so perhaps I'll share some of it with you. The working title of the book was "Sound Bites" as I used this technique to fulfill the command to teach and admonish with hymns (Col. 3:16) Maybe you think hymns are boring and dry. Hopefully that might change. Maybe you have no use for hymns. Perhaps I can feed you some appreciation. You may be one who never quite understood them. I might offer some insight. If you find it of interest, let me know and I'll do more. If not, I can just keep it to myself. I have all these years anyway. So this is the first installment in a series that may follow that I call "Hymnody."
Precious Lord

Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me on, help me stand.
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When my way grows drear, precious Lord, lead me near,
When my life is almost gone.
Hear my cry, hear my call.
Hold my hand, lest I fall.
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
Thomas Dorsey was born in Georgia, the son of a Baptist minister, in 1899. As a young man, he played blues and jazz music in local clubs in Chicago. Then, in 1921, he met Christ. God led him to use his musical talents to minister to others. He became a renowned leader of music for revival meetings, and became known as “the father of gospel music”.

One evening, Thomas was scheduled to lead music in a revival in St. Louis. He was hesitant to go because his wife, Nellie, was not well and was pregnant with their first child. He felt a strong urge to stay home, but he felt he was obligated to go and set out for the meeting. The next night, after he finished the song service, he was handed a telegram telling him that his wife had died. He hurried home, but his newborn son died the night he arrived.

Thomas was deeply grieved and questioned God. He wandered about in a fog for some time, even considering returning to secular music. As he considered the events, he concluded that the urging he had sensed to stay home that night was God speaking to him, so he agreed to walk more closely with Him. Shortly thereafter he wrote this song.

A moving, extremely personal hymn, this song sees God in the role of Comforter. We all like to think of God in that light. His love, His comfort, His peace, these are all aspects of God we long for. They are, in fact, among those things He has promised to His children. But the author recognizes further aspects of truth.

There is the recognition of our utter helplessness outside of God's presence. We believe that generally we are capable individuals. God indicates that apart from Him we can do nothing. It is apart from God that we experience "burnout." It is away from Him that we stray into our own will, not His. All we can do is not good enough.

The second aspect is that trials happen. The hymn makes no attempt to avoid them. "Through the storm, through the night..." Human nature tends to flee difficulty. Our reflexes make us withdraw from pain. But God's presence allows us to actually go through difficulties and pain. (Isa. 43:2) The fact is, along with love, joy, and peace, Christians are promised suffering. But if God is reliable, capable, wise, and loving, suffering is a secondary issue, a joy in itself. (James 1:2-4) It is a demonstration of God's love. (Heb. 12:3-10) It is necessary and, with God at hand, bearable.

The third aspect is the recognition of more. Our mind set is here and now. Yesterday is just a memory. Tomorrow hasn't come. But the hymn writer's eyes are beyond all that. The hymn looks to home. An familiar proverb says, "Home is where the heart is." The hearts of those who know God long to be with Him and anticipate with joy that day when we get to see Him. We are citizens of heaven, just visitors here. It is home that we long for.

These are the aspects that sustain us here on earth. We see our utter helplessness but know God is completely capable. We endure hardship with our precious Master alongside, inside, following His paths, standing in His strength. We recognize that ultimately this world is not our home. This helps return perspective to all of life. It is in the presence of God here and ultimately at Home that we long to be.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Baby in the Bathwater

One of the key points of the Reformation was sola scriptura -- the position that the Bible is the sole authority in matters of faith and practice. This position was taken over against the three-fold authority that the Roman Catholic Church recognized (and still does): 1) The Bible, 2) The Church, and 3) Tradition.

A lot of non-Catholics have worked hard at tossing the baby out with the bath water. In their mad rush to catapult anything that resembles "Catholic" (including the word "catholic"), it seems that we have been ejecting things of value. The easiest one of these is the word "catholic," which simply means "universal." There is surely a "universal church" comprised of all Christians everywhere. Non-Catholics have difficulty realizing that the "catholic Church" is not the same as the "Roman Catholic Church." So when they hear in the Apostles' Creed, "I believe in ... the holy catholic Church," they squirm, not realizing that it's simply a reference to the Church Universal and not a tacit nod to Rome.

The one that I am having difficulty with is Church history. For some reason, there is a sense today that the history of the Church -- "Orthodoxy" -- has little value. Ignore creeds. Don't even pay attention to Jonathan Edwards, Calvin, Luther, Aquinas, Augustine, or any of those old dead guys. We need to ignore all that stuff and just use the Word. On the face of it, it's not very bright. I mean, if there were people in the past who had depth, why shouldn't we benefit from it? But when I look at it further, it seems more than "not very bright." It seems dangerous.

Jesus, speaking of sending the Holy Spirit, said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). The Spirit of truth came at Pentecost. That means that the Holy Spirit has been at work in believers since Pentecost directing them to the truth. And that means that the truth has been available since Pentecost. It seems to me, then, that I should be able to track whatever doctrine I choose from today all the way back through Church history to the Bible and find it confirmed by true believers throughout. I know; maybe it gets dim at times. I know that there were dark times when the true Church was hard to find. I know that there are times when not much was written. But it seems to me that there should be a continuous set of points throughout documented Church history that confirms the basic truths that we call "Christianity."

So here we are in the 21st century and we are quite comfortable, for the most part, with tossing that baby out with the Roman Catholic bathwater. Who cares what history tells us? What does it matter what other men of God believed in times past? For example, so what if Darby was the first one in over 1800 years of Church history to suggest that the Rapture would occur at the beginning of the Great Tribulation? Of what consequence is it that no one prior to the 20th century figured out that Paul did not mean that women shouldn't be pastors? Well, it bothers me. It bothers me to think that we have figured things out some 2000 years after Christ that those closer to His time couldn't see. It bothers me to think that the Spirit seemed either incapable or unwilling to lead them into all truth, but waited for our day. I don't know ... it just seems rather arrogant of us to say, "Well, sure, they believed all that stuff ... but we know better now."

Don't misunderstand. It's not all your beliefs I'm pointing at. It's not like you are the problem -- not me. I recognize, for instance, that the concept of Infant Baptism was a given in Church history until fairly recently. I know that today's largely symbolic Communion was much more real in Church history. I understand that baptism was much more significant for them than it is to us today. So I struggle with this stuff myself. What makes me think that my positions which differ from historic positions are right when they were all wrong? It makes me uncomfortable.

We live in a time when a lot of Christians are tossing out things that we shouldn't be willing to so easily lose. There is rampant anti-intellectualism. "Don't think; just feel." Never trust scholars. That kind of thing. We cannot afford to toss out our minds. There is the "No creed but Christ" crowd which, oh, by the way, is a creedal statement. We shouldn't be so willing to jettison the hard work and wisdom of men of God in times past who distilled doctrines we desperately need today into clear statements of what we believe. Then there are those who argue that Church history is irrelevant. I can't help but wonder what was preventing the Holy Spirit from doing what Christ promised He would if that is the case. I'm not arguing in favor of the three-fold system of authority that the Roman Catholic Church holds. I'm simply suggesting that much of it has value, and discarding it is unwise. And I'm wondering how far I am willing to go to hold a position counter to the wise and godly men and women who have gone before me. It just kind of bothers me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Winning Isn't Everything

"It's not whether you win or lose; it's how you play the game." "Winning isn't everything." Nice sentiments, but everyone knows that the truth is that these are simply platitudes that losers say to make themselves feel better. Winning is everything.

In our world, it is. In what world would that not be true? It would be true in a world where I am not the center of the universe. Oh, but wait, that's our world. The difference, of course, between my mythical world and our world is that they would know it ... and we don't. Oh, we may acknowledge it mentally. We may logically agree that we are not the center of all existence. But for most their worldview revolves around "looking out for #1". In that worldview, winning is everything.

In my mythical world, it would be true that winning isn't everything, and that it is more important how you play the game than whether or not you lose. You see, how I come out of the game -- winner or loser -- only matters if I am the primary issue. If I see others as the primary issue, then my winning or not is irrelevant. Their well-being is the primary concern.

Funny thing. That is the demand of God on Christians.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:3-5)
It's pretty clear. There is no ambiguity. "Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself." Oh, there is one ambiguous point in this translation. As it turns out, the word "merely" ("do not merely look out for your own personal interests") isn't in the original text. That's odd. Well, it can be inferred, perhaps, and it is illogical and unrealistic to suggest that we never ever look out for our own personal interests, but I'm making a point here. According to this passage and our example, Christ Jesus, our personal interests are at the bottom of the list. "Not My will, but Thine."

Can you imagine what that mythical world would look like? Driving would be different. No one would cut you off. People would be deferential. There would be a thing we used to call "common courtesy" which isn't so common anymore. Businesses wouldn't be fighting their way to the top. Just think how marriages would change. Every corner of your life would be touched by this viewpoint and nothing would be the same, it seems. No, I don't suppose I can imagine that world.

We shouldn't have to imagine it. We should be living it. Sure, unbelievers aren't going to follow this. The world around us might not change. But we who call ourselves "Christians" -- Christ followers -- ought to be emulating Christ, and laying down self in favor of placing the importance on others ought to be a hallmark of our lives. Maybe we can begin today. Maybe we can't change the world, but perhaps we can change one little corner of it ... our own.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hard to Believe

One of the common complaints of skeptics is "If God was so interested in saving us, why didn't He make it more obvious? Why is He so hard to find?" We get stuck on that. We might answer boldly, "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psa. 19:1) or "Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20) -- you know, because these are the Bible's answers -- but we're still stuck with the fact that many don't believe. We think God is quite obvious, but they don't. What's up with that?

In Jesus's story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), after both Lazarus and the rich man are dead, the rich man pleads to have Lazarus sent to his father's house to warn his brothers of their doom if they don't repent. He is given this answer: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31).

How many times have you heard it? I asked my grandfather once who does not believe in God, "What would it take?" He said, "All I need is a direct miracle right here in front of me." And we think, "Well, God, how about it?" But it doesn't happen. Why?

I suspect the answer is found in John. There he tells of another dead man named Lazarus. The account has many fascinating aspects. There is this:
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, so when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was (John 11:5-6).
Did you catch that. Because He loved them, He delayed visiting them when He heard Lazarus was sick. Interesting.

Of course, there is the famous verse that we all begged to be given credit for memorizing in Sunday School. "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Very enigmatic. Why did He weep. He knew He was about to raise His friend from the dead. Why did He weep? Was it for the grief of those around? Was it for the sadness that death (the result of sin) brings? What was it for? No one is really sure.

The part that really gets me is this. Jesus goes to the tomb and orders them to remove the stone (even though "he stinketh"). Then He simply commands the dead man to "Come forth!" ... and he does. Not something you see every day. What really gets me is the reaction of the observers:
Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done (John 11:45-46).
"Some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done"????? What's that all about? Look, guys, you just had a verified, undeniable, actual miracle occur. There is no explanation. He hasn't been sleeping; he's been dead. And no one ever calls a dead man out of his tomb. But Jesus did. So you go and tattle on Him???

These people got exactly what the skeptic requires to believe. They witnessed a supernatural event. They didn't hear about it by email and have to check Snopes; they saw it occur. And still they were hostile to Christ and refusing to believe. How is that possible?

John doesn't leave us hanging. He tells us the answer in the next chapter. In chapter 12 we learn:
The chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus (John 12:10-11).
The chief priests, having been informed by hostile eyewitnesses that a man had been brought back to life on the command of Jesus (who claimed to be God Incarnate), plotted to kill him. He was causing them trouble. What was at the root of their hatred? You might think that their power was threatened, and there was some of that. But John tells us the real problem:
Though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they would not believe in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, "He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them." (John 12:37-40).
This is truly astounding. According to John, the reason that so many did not believe is because they refused ("would not"). The reason they refused was because they lacked the ability ("could not"). And the reason they lacked the ability was because they were intentionally blinded. John, quoting Isaiah, says that this was God's intent.

We who believe find all sorts of reasons to believe. It makes sense. It is logical. It is practical. We experience it. We see it. We understand it. We cannot even begin to fathom why it is that others don't. How is it even remotely possible that someone asks, "If God was so interested in saving us, why didn't He make it more obvious? Why is He so hard to find?" Hard to find?? In what sense? It's right there in front of your face!! The real answer is that, while God would like to save everyone (1 Tim. 2:4), He doesn't plan to save everyone. Instead, He has other, better plans. Unfortunately, that includes judgment on so many who have chosen to be their own god. And it is likely difficult for us to comprehend, being one of those worthy of judgment. But God has planned to allow many to be blinded because He does not plan to save them. There is no other possible conclusion.

Why is it that many don't believe? Why does it seem, sometimes, so hard for people to see the truth that we see so easily? It's because they are blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) ... and God sees fit to leave them that way. We think it's easy to believe. It's not. It's hard -- very hard. So when we place our confidence in our apologetics or our persuasive speech, we're missing the point. Faith is a gift, and it's not given to everyone. Sight is a privilege that is not afforded to all. No one deserves it. No one receives it because they're more valuable than another. But it is a gift by the grace of God. That ought to make us far more grateful, and that ought to alter how we act.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

In Love With Mediocrity

I recently heard a few minutes of John MacArthur while driving to work. (I don't hear him very often -- time constraints and all.) He was talking about how it is that our world has embraced mediocrity, and so many in the Church have followed suit. I had to think about that.

Have we embraced mediocrity? It would certainly seem so. We have the capacity, for instance, to make the best engineered automobiles in the world. The technology exists to make them powerful, fuel efficient, and safe. But we don't really want all that because, well, it's just too expensive. So, tell ya what ... how about if you just give us powerful? We'll deal with the "fuel efficient" by paying more at the gas pump and the "safe" by taking our chances and suing when we lose. How's that?

Actually, so much of our living is in mediocrity. The other day I overheard a TV cook say, "Put in it whatever you find in your garden. My garden is whatever I find at the grocery store." That's true. We don't care about fresh, natural foods. We care about cheap, altered foods. We sacrifice freshness and flavor for "easy". We buy frozen foods, frozen meals, pre-packaged, pre-made, pre-mixed. If I wanted to make a cake from scratch, I wouldn't know where to find the ingredients. (Where does one buy "scratch"?) Or look at your typical housing developments going up today. Fast and cheap, that's how they're typically built. And we pay top dollar for them. Gone is the sprawling spaces between houses. Gone is the solid build. Gone is the fine craftsmanship. Pre-fab ... that works for us. That'll do. Build your own??? What, are you crazy??? (Note: It would be crazy for me. I can't pound a nail straight to save my life.) We live in a mass produced, cut rate, "designer prices at discount store prices" world. We don't really care about the excellent. Just give us the mediocre.

It's not just in our goods that we have surrendered to the mediocre. Schools have largely adopted the "teach to the lowest common denominator" method. "Advanced" courses are hardly advanced. "Education" in America is hardly teaching us anything. Look at one of the latest TV game show: "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" Truth is ... we're not. For decades we have stopped teaching what phonetics is, how to "spell it like it sounds", even "reading, writing, and arithmetic." American education is considered very low in the world's estimates. We aren't turning out scientists, engineers, or scholars like we used to. A bachelor's degree is likely sufficient. A master's is a bit too much work. Maybe later. And the quality of those degrees isn't what they used to be. Face it. Our education has become mediocre as well.

Look around. It's everywhere. We are looking for the fast and cheap in our food, our homes, our goods, our education, just about anywhere you please. We haven't merely surrendered to the mundane; we demand it. And if you look around, you'll find that the Church has largely embraced this approach, especially here in America. It has become few and far between the pastors who preach in depth. More and more cater to the 15-minute "pep talk". You know how it is. The "customer" that is the general public doesn't care for those long sermons digging deep in Scripture, so many have jettisoned them. What this "customer" really wants is light, easy, applicable, relevant. And we're giving it to him. Don't dig too deep; you'll likely lose them. Paul wouldn't have survived in this environment. Remember him? He killed one of his congregants with boredom (Acts 20:7-12). He preached until midnight, interrupted by this kid who couldn't take it, fell asleep, and fell out the window to his death. Fortunately he brought the lad back to life, but surely Paul should have known that no one wants to hear all that jabber. Mediocre is what we want in our sermons. Light, airy, not too convicting, and certainly not too deep.

We've fallen in love with mediocrity. We've embraced it in our world. We buy it in our stores. We drive it on our streets. We pay for it to live in. We send our kids to school to learn it. And we visit it regularly on Sunday. We stand convicted of the very thing that the author of Hebrews chided them for:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:12-14).
Is there any wonder that we are having little impact on our society. We haven't become mature -- meat eaters of the Word -- "who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." We need to stop providing congregations with what they think they need (the comfortable and mediocre) and start giving them what they really need -- solid food.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Woman's Place

A short time ago I complained because it seemed like there was a conspiracy going on. Dana rightly pointed out that there is a conspiracy ... just not a human one. I agree. This conspiracy is broad and despicable. One area that this conspiracy has gone nearly unchallenged is in the arena of "the woman's place". This is a diabolical conspiracy ... quite literally.

There is a pervasive view in America (and elsewhere, I'm sure) that the woman's place is not the home. This particular viewpoint is not "tolerant". It doesn't admit "A woman's place may be in the home." Instead, it shouts confidently that no woman could possibly be happy as a simple homemaker. No woman could be fulfilled and content raising children, tending to a household, and not working in a career. The belief instead is that those women who believe such nonsense are lying, overtly or covertly, and women really, really, really want to be "more".

Has anyone taken the time to think that thought process through? I spent a little time on it recently because it just wasn't making sense to me. Here's what you have to conclude if you surrender to this presupposition.

1. No woman is happy as a "stay at home mom", a "homemaker". Those who say they are cannot be telling the truth. Either they are lying to themselves or lying to you or both. It is not possible. All you "homeschoolers" and "stay at home" moms and such ... you're either idiots, liars, or suffering from extremely low self-esteem. Shame on you!

2. Making a home and raising children is an inferior task, a menial labor, beneath the dignity of women everywhere.

3. It has all been a male-driven conspiracy to keep women "barefoot and pregnant", to keep her "in her place". Men, after all, are the scum of the earth.

4. God has failed over time to provide women with the opportunity to be content. It wasn't until the 20th century that it finally happened that women could be happy in life. Before that all women were forced to surrender happiness to being homemakers, mothers, housewives, you know, that menial stuff. Thank God for the Women's Movement.

5. The Bible isn't really a reliable book. Well, mostly reliable, maybe, but that entire "Proverbs 31 wife" thing is a lie from the pit of Hell. Women are better than that.

Our world has reinforced these presuppositions. Think, for a moment, about the language of the "pro-choice" side of the abortion question. "Women," they shout, "have the right to make their own medical decisions." No Christian should disagree. But relegating "baby" to "medical condition" is problematic. Shifting "pregnancy" to "medical condition" is wrong. Still, we've done it. We have methods and pills to prevent this condition, treatments to fix it when it happens, and the certainty that children are a problem at best anyway. Someday, perhaps, she'll have them, but not until after she has done what she wants to do because children get in the way. Where does the Bible get off with language like "Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward" (Psa. 127:4)? Get real! Children are a nuisance, a hardship, something to be endured if necessary. Not a gift!

Do you think I'm being extreme? Then I would suggest you haven't been following current events over the last couple of decades. In 1980, the ratio of divorces was 600:1, where 600 men divorced their wives before 1 woman divorced her husband. In 1990 -- a mere decade -- the ratio was 12:1 ... in reverse. For every 1 man who divorced his wife, 12 women were divorcing their husbands. Not only that, but the number of women who are leaving the kids with their fathers has been growing by leaps and bounds. The so-called "motherly instinct" appears to be waning in many American mothers. It's much better to leave that lousy guy and those lousy kids and get out on your own where you can have fun than to try to take care of those little brats with or without him. So more and more mothers leave their kids, drown their kids, throw their babies in dumpsters, or just make sure they are never born.

I don't fall in the typical "male chauvinist" category. I don't argue "A woman's place is in the home." I suspect that there are a lot of women who can do a lot of things that are outside the home. But I also believe that probably the most thrilling, important, significant, difficult job on the face of this earth is the job of being a full-time mother and wife. The suggestion that there is "more" for women is ludicrous to me. I suspect that it is only the best women who are able to do that high calling. Making a home, forming the lives of future generations, domesticating a male, and propagating the race is not a menial task that should be relegated to the miserable few. It is a majestic task that should be embraced by far more women than our world has allowed. And too many women suffer from the lie that you cannot be happy being a full-time mother and wife. I wish I could fix that.

Friday, April 20, 2007


It seems as if one of the issues of singular importance in politics these days for conservatives in particular is the subject of abortion. One side shouts, "A woman has the right to make her own medical choices!" This side is called "pro-choice." That's nice. This side is in favor of people being allowed to make their own choices. You don't get that right; they do. The other side shouts, "It's not a choice; it's a baby!" They are in favor of taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves, the absolutely weakest -- the unborn child. Try as they might to get themselves tagged as "pro-life." this side is constantly called, "anti-abortion." Now that's not so nice. They're not for something; they're against something. It's not that they favor a position so much as they oppose another. So the two sides are forever framed as favoring the rights of others to make their choices or opposing those rights.

As polarizing as this issue is, I have decided to put my foot in the water and see what bites me. You see, I am not anti-abortion. (Ducking ... seeing if any shots ring out from the right.) It is not abortion that I oppose; it is murder. (Kind of ironic, then, that I'm ducking, isn't it?) I am against taking the life of another human being. That cannot be termed "anti-abortion" because it is too small a term.

Now it gets interesting. You see, killing another person may or may not be murder. All killing of persons is classified as "homicide", but not necessarily murder. It is not "murder" when you shoot the guy that is attacking you with a knife. That's called "self-defense" -- justifiable homicide. Killing the enemy in battle isn't classified as "murder". If you are chopping a tree and the axehead comes off and hits your neighbor, killing him, it is not classified as murder; it is classified as "manslaughter." Simply killing another human being does not automatically get classified as murder. For something to be considered murder, it requires two components. First, it has to be the death of a human being. Second, it has to include malice. The question becomes "Does abortion include malice?" If we are to continue to call it murder, we have to consider the question.

Years ago J.P. Moreland suggested that Christians would be silenced in their protests against abortion if science could come up with a way to terminate a pregnancy without terminating the life of the baby. I agree with him. You see, it isn't abortion that they are protesting -- it's terminating the life of that child. (This is why considering it a "medical choice" is pure nonsense.) So if the child were to be able to survive beyond the womb and not be killed, Christians would shut up. I mentioned that to a friend of mine, and he made an interesting observation. "Do you think that women who are currently having abortions, if they had the option to terminate the pregnancy without terminating the baby, would choose that option?" Frankly, I was stunned by the proposition. Then, as I thought it through, I began to wonder. Would they?

I suspect that most of those who are currently willing to abort their babies would not be interested in having that baby survive. Why do I think that? Well, it currently is an option. We call it "adoption." So few, however, select that option. Instead, that baby is terminated. Why ? I'm not sure. Perhaps it has something to do with not wanting to think about it. Maybe it's something about guilt -- something that should have been their child being raised by someone else. There are lots of possibilities. But it is my suspicion that most of those who terminate their pregnancies also intend to terminate the life of that child. They would refuse the option of letting it live ... as they currently do. That qualifies as "malice." And that qualifies as murder.

I am not in favor of removing choice. I am in favor of allowing people to make their choices. In some cases, however, people demonstrate that they cannot be trusted to make their own choices. When their poor choices affect (or, especially, terminate) the lives of others, it's time to step in. We don't allow people the option of murder. We make laws against it. We remove their choice. If they still make that choice, it carries consequences. I am in favor of protecting the weakest people, and the unborn fall in that category. I am against murdering them. It seems to me that abortion today falls in that category. But don't classify me as "anti-abortion" because that completely misses the point.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

War on Terror

Our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are said to be part of our "war on terror." I got to thinking ... how does one fight a "war on terror"? Now, I know ... it's not actually a war on terror. Terror is not a thing. You can't tell it to put up its dukes and go blow for blow to knock it out. I know that our "war on terror" is, more accurately, a "war on terrorists". Okay, fine. I'm still wondering about a "war on terror".

The recent event at Virginia Tech is having a ripple effect. Of course they've set up counseling for the students there. But they've also set up counseling for those affected by it here at ASU. Who was affected? It's hard to say. But these kinds of things have their effect. Parents of high school kids are now wondering, "How do I pick a safe college for my kids to go to?" School-age kids are wondering, "It happened there; am I actually safe here?" These kinds of events tend to ripple out their waves of terror, whether or not it was an "act of terrorism".

Indeed, we live in a frightening world. In the year 2000, the CDC reported 4.5 million traffic-related injuries. Breaking that down, you get 380,250 per month, 87,750 per week, 12,501 per day, 520 per hour, 8 per minute. Eight traffic injuries per minute in the United States. In 2001, the CDC reported 42,443 traffic-related fatalities. That's 3,536 per month, 816 per week, 116 per day, 4 per hour. Four people in any given hour die on American roads. Throw in health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, household accidents, crime, and "acts of God", and we live in a terrifying world, surrounded on all sides by the very real possibility that any one of us could die or be injured at any moment.

How do we fight this kind of terror? What can we do to deal with the very common feelings of fear that strike many of us when we hear that some college kid let loose with firearms and killed a bunch of people? How do we fight a war on that terror?

I am greatly comforted in times of deep concern with the words from Isaiah: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee" (Isa 26:3). How many times do we hear in Scripture that God is "my Rock and my Salvation"? Two linked together. You see, "salvation" isn't always "saved from the wrath of God". Often it is "saved from calamity, from those who would harm me, from difficult circumstances, from harm." And while "saved from the wrath of God" is excellent, it is also good to remember that each and every breath we take is by the grace and mercy of God. It is good for us in our "war on terror" -- that terror within us that often surfaces in difficult times -- to remember to "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7). Take precautions. Drive defensively. Be safe. But above anything else, let your mind be stayed on Him, trusting Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award

Apparently I've been tagged. Being fairly new to the blogosphere, I don't exactly know that that means. But it seems that Dana of Principled Discovery honored me with a Thinking Blogger Award. Now, I am just tickled to think that someone considers my blog a "thinking blog" worthy of mention.

According to the article, I'm now supposed to do the same now with 5 other blogs. What other blogs make me think? Here are five not in any particular order and not with a great deal of thought. (Is that right to not put a great deal of thought into 5 blogs that make me think?)

1. The guys over at Pyromaniacs are always digging about with good stuff to share. Maybe it's stuff from the Word. Maybe it's current events. Maybe it's just the latest "battles" with other ways to think about it. They make me think.

2. I read Jim Jordan's Moral Science Club every day. Okay, sometimes he doesn't update it every day, but that doesn't stop me from looking. He puts some effort into giving meaningful, intelligent comments on the things that concern him and, for the most part, ought to concern most of us.

3. Von over at, of all places, Vons Takes, may not always be right (just a dig there, Von), but he certainly makes me think. And that's what a "Thinking Blogger Award" is supposed to recognize, right?

4. He is hit or miss at times in his posting. Sometimes it's really something, and sometimes it's just mildly interesting, but I have to say that FzxGkJssFrk's Physics Geek Jesus Freak qualifies for me as a regular read and a thinking blog.

5. Whatever we do, we mustn't forget Pastor Jon. Sprinkled there amidst a constant barrage of Bible study (something that definitely requires thought) are tidbits of humor and insight that just make it a good place to visit.

There are more, but I was asked for five and there they are. I've left off ones like Carry Your Candle and Refreshment in Refuge not because they are inferior, but because I ran out of my list of five. There are many more I could mention, most of which are too "thinking" to bother responding to anything like this, so they're not on the list either. (Who knows? It may be entirely possible that some of those I did list won't bother with the duties of being "tagged".) But I wanted to fulfill my obligation of "being tagged," so there's my list.

Oh, and here are the rules:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the "Thinking Blogger Award" with a link to the post that you wrote (There is a gold version and a silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

Good People Go To Heaven

Do good people go to heaven? This is likely the very most popular view of all religions. Good people go to heaven; bad people go to ... well, not heaven. Various religions differ about what "heaven" might be. Various groups differ about what "not heaven" might be. But essentially the most popular perspective, be it Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist or Islamic or even Catholic, is that good people go to heaven. Pope John Paul II said that good people will be saved. The measure of salvation, in most people's perspective, is sincerity.

The devout, non-Catholic Christian would raise a hand in dispute. "No, no, only Christians go to heaven." I suspect that this is because devout, non-Catholic Christians aren't paying attention or thinking or something. Maybe they're responding to a different question. I say this because it is absolutely true that good people go to heaven. "Wait," you protest, "'No man comes to the Father but by Me,' Jesus said!" Yes, absolutely. So what am I suggesting?

We've all heard the classic dilemma, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" The answer is really quite simple: They don't. Oh, unpleasant things happen all the time, and to people that we admire and respect, but there is a problem here. Our definition of "good" is skewed. So Paul, quoting the Psalmist, writes, "There is none who does good, no not one" (Rom. 3:12).

You see, the Pope, as much as we might respect him, was not quite right when he said that good people will be saved. The truth is that good people have no need of salvation. Good people go to heaven because they deserve to go to heaven. The biblical standard of "good" is "perfect as your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:48). Those people who succeed at being good, at meeting the standard, go to heaven when they die. Of that there is no doubt. And, that no one meets that standard there is no doubt as well.

We've substituted a poor standard for "good". We've substituted a relative standard. "Good" to us is "better than bad". It is "not as bad as other people" perhaps, or "not totally evil." And, to be fair, it's because "good" is a relative term. A "good" dog and a "good" man do not have the same requirements. If a man merely did what a good dog did, most of us would not classify him as "good". It's relative. That's why God had to specify what He meant by "good". Sure, you may be better than others. You may not be as bad as a murderer or child molester or some such. But "better than a child molester" falls far, far short of God's standard of perfect.

The world's religions try to offer us hope by telling us that good people go to heaven. It's a nice idea as long as you keep the standard low enough. If you use God's standard, well, we're in trouble. Perfection is lost after one, single error, and I think we're all pretty far from "one single error." So the world's religions and the popular perspective is nice as long as you have no standard. When you do, there's trouble for everyone. It is this trouble that makes Christianity stand out from the crowd and the answer to this trouble that is at the heart of the Christian "Gospel" -- the Good News. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away, but the Good News sure is good when we begin to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I was mulling today, as I am wont to do, and it occurred to me that there's one set of feelings that's not likely being taken into account in all this shared grief over the events in Virginia. Can you imagine what the parents in South Korea of this wild gunman must be feeling?

It tried to imagine it. You know they didn't send their crazy son college in America. They had no idea he would snap and kill 32. What would you feel if your college-age child went to a foreign country to study and ended up perpetrating the worst massacre in the history of that country? It has all the earmarks of ... horror for the parents. What kind of guilt must there be? "Where did we go wrong?" "How could it have happened that our son would do it?" What kind of sorrow must there be, with a distant death of their loved son piled on the horror and shame of what he did and how he died.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm including these likely devastated parents in my prayers for the families and survivors of this tragedy.

Let the Games Begin

It was a tragedy. More than 30 people shot to death by a gunman. Mostly students, young people. Very sad. The nation mourns together, even if we didn't actually have children in that school, because of the magnitude of the horror. And as we pray for the families and authorities and friends and anyone else touched by this awful crime, it begins.

The second guessing is on. What did the administrators do wrong? How could they have acted more wisely? How did this guy get on campus? Why didn't anyone know about him? Why didn't the university act more swiftly to lock down the school? How was this guy able to get across campus and start shooting again some 2 hours after the first shots were fired? Maybe we need to get better security. Maybe we need to outlaw guns. And where was God in all this? How could He let something like this happen? It's a mess, and someone is to blame.

It doesn't take a big event for this second guessing to occur. A child drowns in a neighborhood pool and everyone is up in arms about lousy parents and poor pool security. A student is in a traffic accident during lunch break and they're passing laws closing the campuses, assigning blame to administrators and anyone else remotely related. An illegal alien is arrested and then, because of a paper foul up, is released back in his home country. He returns and kills someone. Who's to blame? The Attorney General? The judge? The police?

I guess sometimes I just think different than other people. I'm baffled as to why it is that we need to find scapegoats -- someone else to blame. Last time I heard there was a gunman. He chose to go in and shoot people. But for some reason everyone else is looking for someone else to blame. Those administrators should have anticipated, should have been prepared, should have done differently. Campus security was inadequate. See? It's the fault of the 2nd Amendment and the right to bear arms. For some reason we need to look beyond the actual cause -- a sociopath who decided to kill.

I am astounded that anyone would think that if we took all the proper measures, nothing bad would ever happen. No one says it, but it seems to be what they think. I've seen it in small ways and large ways. An accident occurs, so doing anything remotely like what caused that accident is banned. A crime occurs and steps are taken so no one can ever possibly consider doing anything like it again. Oddly, it never works. Accidents happen. Crimes occur. Things go wrong.

I am surprised that anyone would think that the authorities -- either law enforcement or campus staff -- would be prepared for just such an emergency. We've all heard "Hindsight is 20-20." Well, I'm pretty sure that just about everyone knew better how to handle these events than those people did. At least, to hear them talk they do. But no one is ready for a lone gunman who walks onto a peaceful campus for no apparent reason with no apparent hints and opens fire at no one is quite sure who. It's not something you can prepare yourself for any more than when zealots steal airplanes and fly them into buildings. No one can be prepared for that.

I am puzzled that people would think that there are steps we can take to prevent this. Events like this never happen. Well, almost never. Obviously. Or it wouldn't be news. It wouldn't occupy all the news air. This is an extraordinary event. Now, I would say that if it were an ordinary event, then we would be sadly lacking somewhere. But it isn't. And it is simply not possible to live in a free society while removing all possible bad events. It can't be done. If you locked up every single person so that they didn't have any opportunity to harm another, sure enough a hurricane or an earthquake would come through and free them. Stuff happens. We should know that.

It is prudent to take reasonable steps to insure the safety of our loved ones. It is wise to have police to enforce the law, have plans to handle emergencies, have hospitals to treat people in the event of such an occurrence. But somewhere along the way we need to stop pointing fingers at the remotest possible people to blame and realize that in a free society things will happen that are unpleasant. Your view of that God whom we question every time will likely determine your response. Did He have a plan in this or are we to blame for everything? Pointing fingers does little good. We try to make ourselves feel better, like we're doing something about it, but the truth is that life is full of unpleasant events. Only in a wise God who is actually Sovereign can we find comfort when the sorrowful circumstances of life that are sure to come cross our paths. Maybe we need to look there instead.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Free from What to What?

Everyone knows there are atheists -- people who claim to believe that there is no God. Some of them are more at "anti-theist" -- militantly against the concept of God. There are those who believe it is their duty to try to remove religion from society, with a special eye toward Christianity. Now, that may be because Christianity is the dominant religion of the United States, but it seems that Christianity is the real offender to many of the anti-theists. You will rarely find them over on a Jewish chat room or a Moslem forum debating the stupidity of their beliefs. It is almost exclusively the Christians who have their ire. There is even an organization called the Freedom From Religion Foundation whose apparent goal it is to eliminate all religion in the public arena.

What I'm wondering is what, exactly, the anti-theist is trying to free us from and to? I actually don't get either side of the question. Here's what I see. People of faith have a belief that there is a higher being that sets the rules, governs their actions, demands moral behavior. They believe that this higher being offers rewards for doing good and punishments for doing bad. They believe that this system of beliefs also offers hope in this life and the hereafter. In the present, the existence and operation of this higher being brings comfort when difficult circumstances occur because they are not random or meaningless. In the hereafter, if you meet the requirements of this higher being, you will be rewarded with an eternity of comfort or some such. These are all basic ideas to people of faith, whatever their faith may be.

It would appear that the anti-theist would like to free you from all that. We don't need morality. That's not to say that anti-theists are immoral. It's just that the basis for being good is removed. It is purely subjective if there is no source other than self. It is pragmatism. Do that which works best. Logically (in most cases) it works best if you're a nice person, so be nice. But others may disagree and, without any source, there are no grounds to suggest they are wrong. But apparently pragmatism is perfectly suitable rather than morality. And all that comfort stuff ... what do you need that for? It's much better if you realize that difficult circumstances are basically random and meaningless. Get over it. And since there is no hereafter, live for today. Stop thinking there will be rewards for being good or anything like it.

Is this better somehow? It feels like someone rowing about in a sinking boat calling to the people in the luxury liner, "Come on in! The water's fine!" Frankly, if I actually believed that life was as meaningless as that and there was no meaning or purpose as is the only conclusion from that line of thinking that I can find, I suspect I'd have to shoot myself and put me out of my misery. Why not? I'm just a biochemical bag of stuff that will decay into nothing when I'm gone. What difference does it make?

Now, I need to be absolutely clear here. I am not a theist because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. Nothing can be deemed true simply because its alternative is awful. If the truth is awful, it's awful. No point in mitigating it. I am a theist because it makes sense to me from the evidence I see and the logic I follow and the arguments I've examined. But I'm frankly glad to be a theist because the alternative is awful. If I were to be convinced that there is no God, I would not consider it freedom; I'd consider it death.

It's a funny thing. We've all heard, "There are no atheists in foxholes." I know that's an over-generalization. But it is interesting how many times those who have strongly opposed anything religious come running to religion when times turn bad. I wonder how many funerals are performed by pastors who never knew the person they are helping bury. One may stand bravely against the night, but when faced with death, it seems that we intrinsically hope there is something more. So I can't figure out why it is that some people spend so much time and effort trying to convert people of faith to despair and hopelessness. Doesn't seem like much of an offer to me.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Gates of Hell

"On this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

Most people get bogged down in this verse. Is it speaking of Peter? Is he intended to be the first Pope? "No," the Protestants cry, "it isn't speaking of Peter but his confession." "Yes," the Catholics respond, "clearly it's speaking of Peter. Who else would He be referring to?" And the disagreement rages. Me? I'm fascinated by the last phrase: "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

I like the previous phrase a lot. "I will build My Church." Talk about reassuring. Somehow in these latter times we've come to conclude that it is our task. We have to form better strategies, get better marketing, compete with the world's messages. We have to figure out ways to get the unchurched into our churches so we can build the Church. Funny thing -- Jesus said He would do that. Do we actually think that the rock on which Jesus plans to build His Church is our fancy strategies and approaches?

Still, it's that last phrase that catches my eye. Most of us read that pretty fast and keep moving. It seems to say that Christ will build His Church, and no weapon formed against it can stand. They seem to see it as a certainty that the Church will continue to the end. And while I agree that the Church will continue to the end, I'm having a hard time with this being a claim of the Church being an impregnable fortress. You see, "gates" are not a weapon of war; they are a defense. You don't close gates to attack an enemy; you close them to keep him out. It is my suspicion that many of us have missed the point on this phrase.

In his book, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis posits a theory. Mind you, it's just his theory. I think there is merit to it. Lewis suggests that heaven and hell are much longer than we envision them. He suggests that for those who end up judged and in Hell, their Hell began at birth. Alternately, for those who are saved and end up in Heaven, their Heaven began at birth as well. The idea is that for those who end up damned (Lewis doesn't get into the "Double Predestination" discussion or the like, so let's not do that here, either.) all things that happen to them are miserable. Unpleasant things occur and it makes them miserable. Pleasant things occur and these, too, ultimately make them miserable. You see, if you are at odds with God, when He does good things to you it simply "heaps coals of fire on your head", so to speak. So everything becomes "Hell" to the one who ends up in Hell. To the one who is saved, everything "works together for good". All the unpleasant events form a tapestry of God's hand at work. All the pleasant events are blessings from above. Everything, in the end, is good -- heavenly. I don't know. Maybe Lewis has an idea with some merit here.

The other point to consider is the biblical use of the term, "hell". While we generally think of it as "the place of the damned", the final abode for evil people, a place of eternal torment, the Bible generally uses the term to simply refer to death and the grave. The Old Testament terminology is commonly "Sheol". It isn't the place final damnation; it is the place that you go to when you die, damned or not. This place is illustrated in Jesus's story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). These two characters both die and go to "hell", but the place is divided. The rich man is in torment, but Lazarus is in comfort. The place is referred to as "Abraham's bosom". The rich man can see Lazarus in comfort. It is one place -- the place of the dead.

Now, consider this. The Bible says that everyone is "dead in sin" (Eph. 2:1) until something changes that condition. There is a sense, then, in which each person is in Hell while they live on this earth. They are under the dominion of "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). They are "slaves of sin" (Rom. 6:17). That's the condition of natural Man -- in Hell. It is my suspicion that this is what Jesus had in mind when He said "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it." He was saying, essentially, "You are surrounded by an evil kingdom called 'Hell' with gates that you can't breach, but I will breach them and take those from it that I wish to take. I will take people from spiritual death to life and use those to build My Church." Years ago there was a Christian musical group called "Jerusalem". They had an album entitled 10 Years After and a song that caught this idea: "Plunder Hell and Populate Heaven". Maybe, just maybe, that's the idea behind Jesus's statement. We are to plunder Hell to populate Heaven.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Can I Get a Witness?

"You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

"Witnessing" ... it's likely that all Christians have heard the term. And we generally have an idea of what it means. When we are planning to "witness", we will probably have a script, a verbal form that we fill out to explain the Gospel to whatever listeners we are planning. We have various versions. The Four Spiritual Laws is quite popular. Evangelism Explosion is an extremely successful approach. Books are written on the subject. Tools are developed. Memory devices are employed. This is quite a production. But it seems, in all our (correct) fervor, that we neglected to ask what "witnessing" meant ... to God.

The Greek word used in Acts 1:8 is martus, the source for our English word, "martyr". In the Greek it means ... to be a witness. Go figure. What was/is a witness? (A Greek witness was the same then as it is now.) A witness is simply an observer. A witness is one who gives testimony. Oh, yes, that's a standard "Christian" word as well, isn't it? We all know what it means to "give our testimony" -- and most of us are scared. But that "testimony" is simply the same kind of thing one gives in a court of law. "Your Honor, this is what I saw/know/experienced." Nothing more; nothing less.

In John's first epistle, this is what he is claiming:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us -- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).
"That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you." Nothing more; nothing less. John says, "We had experiences and were given information and we simply want to tell you about it." That is witnessing.

I think perhaps we've complicated things too much. I'm sure it's because we are deeply concerned about the message. I'm confident it's because of good intentions, not bad. But when Jesus said, "You will be my witnesses," He didn't have anything grandiose in mind. He wasn't envisioning websites and books and pamphlets and tracts. Oh, they're all fine, but that's not what "witness" means at its essence. "Tell them what you've seen and heard. Tell them what you've experienced. Tell them what you know." Nothing more; nothing less.

It is my opinion that if we approached witnessing from this direction, it would make for some good changes. First, it would free up a lot of scared people. "What if I say the wrong thing? What if I don't tell them everything they need to hear? What if I say something wrong?" You can't if you're simply saying, "This is what I know. This is my experience." And the perception of the listener would be impacted. Instead of producing a package, you'd be sharing yourself. Instead of providing a canned script, you'd be interacting. No longer would it be a sales tactic, an argument, a debate to be won. Instead, it would simply be, "Let me tell you something about myself because it might benefit you."

I don't think tracts or The Four Spiritual Laws or the like are "evil" or "wrong" or "to be avoided". I just think that some of us really need to jettison the tricks of the trade and get back to being witnesses. Some people are "expert witnesses," giving testimony for pay, so to speak. The Bible refers to them as "evangelists" (Eph. 4:11). Most of us, however, are just people placed in various places in the world. We are given the Holy Spirit and simply asked, "Tell them what you know." Nothing more; nothing less. Wouldn't that make it a lot easier to share your faith if all you had to do was say what you have experienced rather than trying to memorize tricks and phrases? I know it makes it easier for me.

Friday, April 13, 2007

More on God and Bad Things

I just wrote an article entitled "Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?", and it's as if God tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Ahem ... May I say a word or two about that?"

I told someone that answering "Why does God ___?" is a very difficult proposition. It's difficult because He's God and does whatever He pleases for whatever reasons He pleases and sometimes (most of the time) He doesn't tell us what they are. It's difficult because He's God and we're not. It's difficult because very few things occur for just one reason. So I have little doubt that my singular answer to the question was slim and insufficient. No ... no doubt at all. I just came across this passage in John:
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:1-3).
You see, the disciples had no doubt who caused this "bad thing". (Is there any doubt that a child born blind is a "bad thing"?) They knew God did it. They assumed a reason for God doing it -- someone sinned. Maybe he was born blind as a punishment for his parents' sin, or maybe he was born blind ... what ... as a preemptive punishment because he would sin? Nonetheless, they knew God did it and they assumed they knew why. They just wanted specifics.

Jesus countered their presumption. "Neither." He told them they were all wrong. He told them that there was an entirely different reason for this horrible thing to have occurred. The reason was "that the works of God might be displayed in him."

Now, there has been discussion in various places offering varying reasons for why God allows bad things to happen. I said it is the starting place of the gospel -- "bad news". Others have pointed out that without the "bad" we can't know the "good". The disciples opted for "judgment" -- that bad things happen as punishment for sin. All of these are valid. Jesus offers another one (and no one can disagree with His option): So that God's glory can be displayed. Jesus proceeded to heal this man. And while the man paid another price later (He was kicked out of the synagogue.), he found new faith. He stood his ground with the Pharisees (John 9:24-34) even when his parents would not (John 9:18-23). He became a disciple of Christ (John 9:35-38). But he was the one who uttered those famous words, "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25). He pointed out that no one had ever seen a person born blind being given his sight. He was a "glory-bearer", a living, breathing testimony, an irrefutable sign.

I suspect we are all "glory-bearers" to some extent. I suspect that we all have tales of troubles from which we were redeemed. Those of us who worship Christ were all blind and now see. And I'm sure that's not the whole of our story.

I suspect that God has many reasons for allowing bad things to happen.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

News and Commentary

There's so much going on in my head this morning that I'm going to try a different approach. Let's see how this flies.

Stan Smith News and Commentary

Dateline: Iraq and Afghanistan

Commanders in the field are reporting great success with the influx of additional soldiers. Thus far, there appears to be a dramatic decrease in violence in Iraq. While the incidents of mayhem haven't completely stopped, it seems that the "surge" is having such a positive effect that the Army has decided it needs to extend the stay of soldiers in the field for 3 months to continue the effort. Congress and the media assure us that the commanders in the field are wrong, that no soldiers should be there at all, and anyone who listens to any of that positive stuff is a dunderhead.

Dateline: Washington D.C.

Congress is still quite sure we're losing in Iraq and demand that the President bring the troops home. No negotiation. No discussion. They are perfectly willing to negotiate with Syria and Iran, known terrorist nations, but not with the President. How, exactly, they classify "losing" I'm not sure. We all know on a daily basis how many Americans have been killed, but I haven't seen the body count of the enemy yet. What classifies us as "losing"?

Dateline: US Broadcasting

MSNBC has decided to immediately drop Don Imus's show from its lineup because of his stupid, uncalled-for comment about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Major advertisers dropped off and there is a general outrage against Imus. Another talk show host in Pennsylvania asked listeners to repeat what Imus had said as a dare and was fired outright. The Rutgers team has gone on record as saying things like "This will scar us for life." We used to hear "I think you are completely wrong in what you said, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Fortunately for America, that is apparently no longer the case. While I personally abhor Imus's comments and think getting rid of his talk show is a service to America, I think doing so for this incident is a little like putting Al Capone away for tax evasion. And while MSNBC absolutely has the right to make whatever business decision they want regarding who to broadcast and who not to broadcast, I wonder exactly how far Americans are willing to go to allow real censorship today. I was told as a kid, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." I was lied to. Despite the great skill and courage of the Rutgers women's basketball team in getting to the final four against all odds, it appears that their well-being and self-esteem is entirely tied up in only having nice things said about them from all sides ... including idiots like Imus. And why is there so little outrage over the dismissal of the charges against the Duke players? If anyone is "scarred for life", it would be them. It's not easy to step out from under a rape charge once it is made public. The coach lost his job over the false allegations. So how far will America go in allowing censorship? It's okay to censor racist remarks; it's not a problem to allow false allegations against white males. It's okay to refuse to print comics offensive to Muslims, but making insults to Christians on a nearly daily basis is acceptable. How far is too far?

Dateline: Jerusalem, Easter.

The Foundation for Freedom from Religion has finally proven that there was no Resurrection. It's simple. Try to align the biblical accounts of the Resurrection. You can't. And ... poof! ... the story vanishes in a puff of logic. I'm trying to get my arms around this approach. The idea is that with "a jury of its peers" (so to speak) the story would not be proven "beyond reasonable doubt". So, since it is being stated in terms of a trial, I'm imagining this process as an actual court event.

"Your honor, the People have had scientists testify and tell you that no such event has ever been recorded in modern medical history. We've heard the testimony of those who have found what they claim to be the bones of Jesus and his wife, Mary. Historians have testified that some early writers were known to highly spiritualize events. The Jesus Seminar people have testified to the fact that any miracle is impossible and all of that stuff is likely myth. The prosecution rests."

"Would the Defense like to call its first witness?"

"Yes, your Honor. We call Matthew."

The court listens quietly to Matthew's testimony, then says, "Your Honor, we object. Move to strike."

"On what basis?"

"Matthew told of the soldiers' interaction with the Pharisees. He could not have been there and, thus, it could only be hearsay."

"So what do you move to strike?"

"All of it! Strike all of his testimony."

"Next witness."

"The Defense calls Mark."

"Your Honor, we object! The last portion of Mark's account is not readily documented."

"Shouldn't you wait until we hear the testimony?"

Mark gives his testimony.

This goes on through Luke and John.

The Prosecutor again objects. "Your Honor, move to strike all this testimony."

"On what basis?"

"There are discrepancies. Matthew appears to say that the stone was rolled away after the women arrive, but the others indicate it was before. It is unclear on how many angels there were, if they were angels, exactly what they said when they said it, how many women went to the tomb, who spoke to whom, who saw Jesus first ... too many discrepancies, your Honor."

The Defense pipes in. "Your Honor, I think there is a viable explanation of all these so-called discrepancies, but I have a question. Is there any doubt that all of these accounts agree that Jesus rose from the dead? Even if we admit (we don't, but even if we did) to discrepancies in details, is there any doubt that there is one single fact being attested to by all accounts -- that Jesus rose from the dead?"

The Judge to the Defense: "Do you have any more witnesses?"

"Just one, your Honor. We call Paul."

Paul testifies that Jesus rose from the dead and that there were 500 witnesses. Go and ask them.

"Your Honor, we object! Eyewitnesses have nothing to do with this proceeding. Clearly science shows that no one rises from the dead and 'biblical scholars' have demonstrated that this is all myth. We have Jesus's bones, for goodness sake! Obviously the discrepancies in the details proves that it didn't happen."

I'd like to hear the Judge say, "Sit down and shut up," but in today's courts, who knows. Nonetheless, we have finally arrived at the point where the "science and reason" side is saying, "Don't bother me with evidence; I know I'm right." How exactly any possible discrepancies in minor details eliminates the undeniably coherent claim of the Bible that Jesus rose from the dead is beyond me.

Dateline: The South

Farmers in the southeast US are reporting major losses of fruit crops after experiencing some of the coldest temperatures on record for this time of year. If this global warming gets any worse, we really are going to freeze to death.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Easter Challenge

I admit it. I got sucked into the "Easter Challenge". I gave my "plausible explanation", and they assured me that it was wrong. One, DagoodS, told me I needed to read his article on inerrancy, although he was sure I wouldn't. I did.

In it, he makes this suggestion:
I offer my method that if a neutral jury would feel it is more likely to be a contradiction, based upon the facts and the human condition then it is.
Then he offers an alternative:
Examine the proposed contradiction and see if there is an explanation that can account for it. The explanation must be more plausible and more believable than the opposing view of a contradiction.
But it is apparent that he would not be part of any "neutral jury". He says things like:
Inerrantists are not stupid. They are well aware that if the method is too exacting the Bible will fail.
In other words, the Bible cannot be inerrant, so those who believe it is must find a way around it.

Then there's:
There is a fear that by using a neutral, they are far more likely to naturally determine contradiction.
In other words, everyone knows the Bible contradicts itself; those who try to say otherwise are simply biased and fooling themselves.

Thus, while seeking to appear "neutral" and "unbiased", the biases are showing. I'm not offended or surprised. He assumed I wouldn't even bother reading his article. You see, people who believe in Christ are stupid people, refusing to consider the arguments against their position and refusing, ultimately, to think. I get it all the time. It's just assumed. Oddly, it appears to only be assumed about people who believe. Those who do not believe are obviously without bias, clear thinking, intelligent people. So I'm used to it.

I wonder if anyone actually believes in a "neutral jury". I would bet that attorneys who are attempting to put together a jury are not interested in a "neutral" one. I would bet that the people who actually sit on juries are not "neutral". Everyone has their biases and presuppositions, and to argue that they don't is an argument from a presupposition. This "neutral jury" doesn't exist.

It doesn't help the case for this "neutral jury" that the book that they are to evaluate says they don't exist. Jesus said, "He who is not with Me is against Me" (Matt 12:30). No middle ground there. Paul said that the flesh is hostile to God (Rom. 8:5-8). No middle ground there. He wrote that the unbeliever sees the Gospel as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:22-25). I know. This doesn't make the anti-Christian any happier with me. "Well, then, how can you expect us to believe if it says we won't?" But I didn't say it. I do see it, but I didn't say it.


In case anyone is interested, here's my version of the story, attempting to take into account all the elements of each Gospel. First, the actual challenge:

“The conditions of the challenge are simple and reasonable. In each of the four Gospels, begin at Easter morning and read to the end of the book: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21. Also read Acts 1:3-12 and Paul’s tiny version of the story in I Corinthians 15:3-8. These 165 verses can be read in a few moments. Then, without omitting a single detail from these separate accounts, write a simple, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension: what happened first, second, and so on; who said what, when; and where these things happened.”

Note: In the actual challenge, the author allows for "educated guesses." Unfortunately, most skeptics will not. But ... here goes:

Before first light, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. She found the stone rolled away. There had been an earthquake that removed the stone. The guards had passed out from the appearance of an angel. So Mary Magdalene, very confused, went back to the other women. As the sun rose, she went back with Mary, the mother of James, Joanna, and Salome. There were two angels there. One inside the tomb said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” They headed back out, and the other said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

They remembered He had said that, but this was very befuddling. This wasn’t making sense. While Mary Magdalene ran to the disciples, they headed home to keep their mouths shut. Who would believe this? But as they went they encountered Jesus Himself. They fell at His feet and worshiped Him. He told them to go tell the disciples where to meet Him.

By now Mary Magdalene had reached the disciples. She wasn’t yet convinced that He had risen, nor did she think that they would believe her, so she simply told them “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” No one believed her. But soon some of the other women arrived and told them that He was gone. Finally Peter and John went to look. The others didn’t believe. John got there first, but stopped at the entrance. Peter went in and saw the burial cloth lying in place and the face cloth folded and off to the side. John came in and was convinced, too.

Mary Magdalene had followed them. She looked inside for herself, overcome with grief. (She wasn’t buying into this resurrection thing yet either.) The two angels (who had gone inside the tomb by now) asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She turned around and, in her tears, didn’t recognize Jesus behind her. He asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take him away.” Then He said, “Mary,” and she recognized Him. She clung to Him, but He told her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” So she went off and told them that He was risen (not stolen like she had thought).

Meanwhile, on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaeus, two disciples were talking about His death. Without them knowing who He was, Jesus joined them. They conversed for awhile and He explained to them why He had to die and how the Scriptures told of Him. They invited Him to eat with them since it was almost dinner time, so He joined them. But as He broke the bread and blessed it, they realized who He was, and He vanished. They ran off to tell the disciples in Jerusalem. They found them gathered in a room, still confused and frightened. Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when Jesus Himself appeared in the room. They thought perhaps He was a ghost, so He asked for some food and ate it to prove He wasn’t merely a ghost. After a conversation, He seemed to vanish into the sky, leaving them elated and worshiping.

Jesus appeared multiple times to people after that. He visited the disciples on occasion. By the time He was leaving for the last time, around 500 people had seen Him. On one occasion he had a personal encounter with Thomas, offering to let him touch His wounds. Thomas decided he didn’t need to in order to believe. Jesus had told them to meet on a mountain in Galilee, so they went there and met with Him to receive “the Great Commission”. On another occasion, He met with them while they were fishing and helped them catch more fish than they had imagined. Finally, after 40 days, He gathered His core disciples, told them to wait for the Holy Spirit, and ascended into heaven.


(Note: I have excluded Mark 16:9-20. There is scant manuscript evidence of their authenticity.)

I don’t think I left anything important out. I admit that there is some conjecture, but 1) none of it is contradictory, and 2) none of it contradicts any of the accounts. I suspect that those who wish to believe it will, and those who don’t won’t. That’s the problem with this "challenge". If someone actually answers it ... it will be ignored by those who started the challenge and applauded by those who didn’t care about the challenge. It was a fun endeavor, but it is a losing proposition if I actually thought someone would say, "Oh, yeah, I guess there is a logical explanation for all of these paradoxes. Thanks!" The truth is that one approach is to find how they correlate, and the other is to show that they don't. If you are looking for correlation, you'll likely find it. If not, you won't. If the goal is to "judge by a jury" and "eliminate reasonable doubt", I don't think it will happen. The Bible wasn't written, by its own admission, to remove reasonable doubt. Neither is it irrational. Like I said in yesterday's Presuppositions, your presuppositions will determine your conclusions.