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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Discrimination is Good?

The headline reads Supreme Court Quashes School Desegregation. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government cannot decide who goes to school where solely on the basis of race. It's a bad thing. We all know it. Or, at least, to hear the public outcry it is. According to the NPR story, it's "a clear blow to the concept of racial diversity."

The case stems from, for one, an event at a school in Seattle. A white family moved to a neighborhood to get their white child into a particular school. The school refused to allow the child into their school, requiring instead that she travel half an hour across town to go to another school. This, the protesters claim, is racism. Wait! No. They're proclaiming that it's discrimination against black people. Hold on. Once again, I'm confused.

I'm confused about the argument that government should discriminate on the basis of race. That, they say, is the right thing to do. That, they say, is more non-racist than the reverse. I don't get it.

I'm confused because from my observation most people who live in particular neighborhoods populated by particular ethnic groups do so by choice. Chinatowns are not Chinatowns because Chinese people are forced to live there; they live there by choice. Korean neighborhoods are typically Korean neighborhoods by choice. White people live with white people because they want to, and black people live in black neighborhoods because they want to. Admittedly it's a generalization, but I think that for the most part it is true. Most people prefer to live with those with whom they are most comfortable, and most people are most comfortable with people like themselves. That also means that rich white people prefer to live in rich white neighborhoods rather than middle-class white neighborhoods because the rich white people are more like them than the middle-class white people. It's not racism; it's xenophobia. Look it up. Human beings are, largely, xenophobic. They are afraid of the foreign -- anything that is not like them. If it's not a different skin color, it's a different language or a different religion or a different income level. It's not "white" -- it's human. The primary reason that predominantly black schools are predominantly black is not due to racism, but because black people have chosen to congregate in an area. The same is true in predominantly white schools.

I'm confused because I went to an "integrated school". In high school I was in a school that was part of a racial integration plan. Hispanics were bussed from the Hispanic area and blacks were bussed from the black area and rich whites were bussed from the rich white area and me ... well, I was a middle-class white boy who lived near the school, so I went there, too. What I observed, however, was not integration. What I observed was self-imposed segregation. Sure, we all went to school together, but the Hispanics hung out over here and the blacks hung out over there and the rich whites hung out across the way and the middle class whites hung out someplace else. Me? I was never given the proper training. I didn't know that I was supposed to be part of a cliqué. I didn't know I was supposed to discriminate on the basis of race or income. I had friends in all groups. Three of us in particular hung out together because we knew each other from church. There was me, the token white kid, with Clarence, a blind black kid, and Dan, a kid whose mom was from Columbia and whose dad was from Chile. They teased us, of course. They called us "the United Nations". I didn't think that was a bad thing. So we were friends through high school. We weren't "integrated" because of bussing. We were integrated because no one remembered to tell us we weren't supposed to be.

I'm confused because it appeared that the complaints center around "diversity". Apparently, and without telling me, the concept of "diversity" has become an absolute moral imperative. It is "good". It benefits everything it touches. Any attempt to block it is "evil" and anywhere that it is not will suffer loss because of its absence. I, of course, have never figured that one out. We don't want "diversity" in the arrangements of public bathrooms. Men's rooms should be for men and women's for women. We don't want diversity there. It's odd that most people are quite sure that women should be allowed to play on men's teams, but men are not allowed to play on women's teams. Wouldn't diversity be good there? When you're an engineering company designing a technical product, would it be good to have a white and a black engineer instead of two white engineers? I don't know what difference that would make. Now, don't misunderstand. I'm not against diversity. Exposing people in certain conditions to things with which they are not familiar or comfortable can be a good thing. I'm just saying that the present perspective that "Diversity is always good in all circumstances and those who disagree are immoral and unkind" doesn't make sense.

I don't get it. I don't get it at all. The NAACP is upset because they are saying that government should discriminate on the basis of race? Is that really what we want to see? It seems to me that the way we stop racial discrimination is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. And now that they have ruled that in this case the government shouldn't discriminate on the basis of race, that's a bad thing? Someone ... anyone ... help me out here. I don't get it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Talking about Leaders

I'm reading in Acts these days. Good stuff. In Acts 23, Paul is taken before the Sanhedrin. Paul makes the simple claim, "I have a clear conscience", and the high priest, Ananias, orders someone to slap that man. Paul says, "God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?" (Acts 23:3). It seems like a reasonable response, but those standing near him warn him that he's speaking to the high priest. Notice his response to this news. "I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people'" (Acts 23:5). Paul withdraws his comment, which seemed perfectly suitable, because Paul believed that the comment violated God's command of Exodus 22:28, which he understood to say, "You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people."

Yes, yes, I know. That was then. That was a different time. And, yes, I know, "We are no longer under the Law." A different time; a different law. Okay. But I find it fascinating that Paul didn't seem to think that, even though he was right and even though he was the one who wrote, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law" (Gal. 5:18), he didn't believe that it was right to speak evil of a ruler of the people. It didn't matter that Ananias was twisted, himself violating the Law. It didn't matter that Paul was right and Ananias was wrong. It didn't even matter that Paul withheld personal judgment while leaving it in God's hands ("God is going to strike you."). Paul believed, despite the fact that the ruler was wrong and that Paul was not "under the Law" that it was wrong for Paul to speak evil of a ruler.

Where does that leave us? I see it all the time. Oh, I know, non-Christians hate our current government, and they will speak evil of it all the time. But what is the Christian excuse? What is my excuse? If I don't think that the president or the Congress is doing the right thing, am I within my rights as a Christian to "speak evil of a ruler of the people"? If I am, why am I? I mean, what changed? When did God change His mind on that count? Why was Paul right for withdrawing his statement but we Christians are perfectly right in verbally raking our leadership over the coals?

When I was a kid, my mother told me, "You can disagree with me, but you have to show me respect when you do it." When I got to be an adult and joined the military, they told me, "You don't have to respect the man, but you must respect the office." And it is exactly this that concerns me. Have we Christians become so immersed in the world that we think that we can do what they do? I wonder because we read in Rom 13:1,
"There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." We may disagree with those in authority, but if they are established by God, isn't our obligation to show respect? And even though we disagree with them, if we disrespect them aren't we disrespecting God?

Well, here I am again, wondering.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Choice is Yours

"Christ gave His life so that we would have the opportunity to choose life." I don't know if that's word for word what is commonly believed, but it's basically the idea. God wants people to freely choose Him. People lack the capacity to save themselves. So He sent His Son to die for us so that we can now choose Him. Of course, the most common belief is that we choose Him -- place our faith in Him -- and then we're born again. Regeneration follows faith.

The cornerstone of this very common perspective is human free will. Remember, God wants people to freely choose Him. Most people accept without challenge that God doesn't want robots. And it goes without saying that if humans don't have the capacity to make choices, they can't be held responsible for their choices, good or bad. But there is a problem with this concept that has been termed "decisional regeneration".

Let me illustrate the problem with an everyday example. It is said that God has done 99.9% of what is required to save us and that we need to do the last 0.1% -- choose Him. Consider a parallel. Who is responsible for turning on the lights in your home? You don't generate the power. You don't run the wires from the generator to your house. You don't run the wires in your home or make the lights. But when it comes down to it, you are responsible for turning on the lights in your home. It's not a great effort. Throw a switch. That's it. Still, without your effort, as minimal as it is, no light would occur in the dark room. The power company isn't responsible. The electrician isn't responsible. The light manufacturer isn't responsible. You are. In the end, you determine whether there will be light in your house.

This is the problem with decisional regeneration. Lay as much as you want at the foot of Christ. Say that He has done the lion's share of the work. Argue that He has done almost all of what is required to provide salvation for us. In the end, if it is our decision that determines whether or not we are saved, it is we who are responsible. And that is the end of grace. It is your responsibility and the direct result of your decision and that is meritorious. In the end, God only made something possible, but you made it real ... something God couldn't or wouldn't do.

You see, if the popular perspective is true, we humans have become huge. We have acted while dead to accomplish something that God didn't. We have managed something really, really miraculous. That's something to be proud of, and the fact that someone else generated the power, ran the wires,and invented the light doesn't negate the fact that we are the final reason we are saved. I, as you might guess, have a problem with that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


The doctrine of Predestination has been debated, embraced, rejected, and debated again for centuries. Some refuse to accept that the Bible teaches predestination (even though it's actually in there). Others take it to places it was never intended to go (like the absolute removal of any ability to make choices). Some take up arms for their position, arguing that anyone who believes the opposite is a heretic or worse. People have actually died over the concept.

Odd. It is a part of Scripture. The word is in there. The doctrine is biblical. Of course, there are a variety of perceptions on it, some supportable and some not. I suspect, however, that the conclusions regarding the doctrine come from a prior position. Calvinists who hold to predestination don't start there. They start with the condition of Man. We hold that Man is sinful by nature, "that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). We believe that "the flesh profits nothing" (John 6:63). We start from the "bad news", the position that Man is spiritually dead and incapable of doing anything to make himself alive again. If we start there and nothing or no one intervenes, that would be the end of the story. All of mankind would sin himself into Hell. All of his choices would be sin and the only possible outcome would be the damnation of all human beings.

That, of course, isn't the end of the story. God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, lived a sinless life, died in our place for our sins, and rose again. "There," they say, "that provides us all the opportunity we need to be saved." Well, not exactly. You see, we're still stuck with the condition of Man. God has done all that to put us in good stead with Him, but we lack the capacity to respond ... because we're dead. Something else is required. What is required should be clear -- life. We need spiritual life, a change in nature, to be able to respond to the offer.

That's where predestination comes in. God has to choose apart from our choice to quicken -- give life to -- some people. Left to our own choices, we will never do it. He has to intervene. Predestination doesn't say that God forces us to choose Him. It says that He enables us to choose Him. And we do. Of our own free will.

It is my suspicion that the objections are anchored somewhere else. There is a root of autonomy in every human being. We don't want to think that we are under anyone else. Self-sufficiency is the aim of everyone, it seems. Yeah, yeah, Paul calls himself a "bond-servant", but that's not us. And, sure, the Bible says natural Man is dead in sin (Eph. 2:1), hostile to God (Rom. 8:7), blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), unable to comprehend spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14), and all that, but surely we're able to do all that is necessary to come to Christ. Of course, "autonomy" is a euphemism. It is the equivalent of "I will be like the Most High" (Isa. 14:14). That's a problem.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Musings of a Wandering Mind

I wonder sometimes.

Have you ever thought about whether or not we're getting the best technology? The most obvious example is video tape. Most people know that the Beta system was technically superior to the VHS system. However, market forces eliminated the Beta and left us with the inferior VHS as the standard. We got shortchanged. Or how about computers? Two basic versions were on the forefront at one time. You had what is known as PC and you had what is known as Mac. In their original forms, the truth is that the Mac format was superior technology. But they chose to go closed architecture while PC chose open architecture and market forces almost pushed Mac all the way out the door, leaving us with the inferior PC as the standard. So it begs the question: Are we getting the best technology? If Henry Ford had not made such a success of the internal combustion engine, would a more efficient, less oil-dependent engine been around the corner? We can't know. Market forces made the internal combustion engine the industry standard and it has taken almost a century to start producing anything else. And in how many other areas of life is this the case? How have market forces or other forces shortchanged us so that we don't have the superior technology today that we could have had? I wonder sometimes.

I wonder about other things, too. Is America a good thing? Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm a patriot. I love my country. I suspect it is likely the best country on the face of the Earth. But sometimes I wonder about its condition and its future. When we started, we were a country founded as a moral republic. We had a government that provided more freedoms and protections than any other had seen ... because we had a strong moral underpinning. It's very easy to allow freedom to those who won't abuse it. But America has devolved. Morality has dissipated and people have found that the freedoms they have been guaranteed and the protections they are given offer them large opportunities for selfish gain and abuse. We see this in our litigous society, where everything, it seems, is a matter for lawsuit. You spill coffee on yourself and you can sue the person that gave it to you. A drunk hits a pothole and careens into your car, and you can sue the city for the pothole. A company doesn't provide you the service you want even though they never offered that service and never intended to and you can sue the company for discrimination. Strip away a moral foundation and this country's freedoms and protections become tools and weapons of vice and greed.

There is another problem that has arisen because of this country's basis in equality and individuality. It is a problem of truth. In this country we hold that all religions are protected equally. Fine. No problem. But slowly this descends into "All religions are equal" and from there we get to "All religions are equally valid" ... and we've run out of truth. Defending the right of people to believe what they want, we end up endorsing the idea that whatever you want to believe is valid. And what havoc has this wrought? In the 19th century the American Church was a huge mission organization. Para-church organizations sprang up for this cause. Churches sent people all over the world to spread the Gospel. The truth was being spread everywhere. But as America has encountered its truth crisis, Christian doctrine has taken its equal share of the blows. Today we can easily find within the Church people who ask, "What is truth?" Doctrine is a four-letter word. (That only works because of our truth-crisis.) Creeds are evil. "Good" is defined as "Whatever you want to believe" and "evil" is "Those who suggest that there is truth." It's wrong to say, "I'm right and you're wrong" and those who say it will be told they are not only wrong -- they're evil. As a result, we end up with muddled theology, muddled doctrine, muddled Christianity. We end up with ... "did God say?"

I wonder sometimes. What started out as a grand experiment in a Christian-oriented, morally-based method of government seems to have been the fertile ground for the devolution of morality and Christianity. We're still sending our Christianity out around the world, but it is now tainted by our truth crisis. It seems, in fact, that if you want to find doctrinally-pure Christianity, you will have an easier time of it outside of the American influence. Watch the news. You'll find that the Episcopaleans outside of Europe and the U.S. are decrying the appointment of a gay bishop and now a Muslim bishop, while American Episcopaleans applaud it. (I mean, seriously folks, in what reality can one be a Christian Muslim let alone a bishop Christian Muslim??? Only in America.) The Anglican Church in England is falling apart while the Anglican Church in Nairobi is flourishing and demanding doctrinal purity. The biggest churches in the world are not found in the "Christian nation" of the United States. They're found in South America and Asia and Africa. (According to NPR, the largest Christian church in the world is found in ... get this ... the Ivory Coast.) The Church is doing much better out there without our doctrinal ambiguity and "seeker-sensitive" approach, it seems.

So I wonder sometimes. Is what we think of as "good" really as "good" as we think it is? Or can it be that sometimes what we think of as "good" is seriously detrimental to our well-being? I wonder.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Urban Legends

A friend sent me this email the other day:
I don't know who wrote this astonishing read. A sad thing about it is the fact that we seem to be on a relentlessly short path to national suicide. How Long Do We Have? About the time our original thirteen states adopted their new constitution in 1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years earlier: "A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship." The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, those nations always progressed through the following sequence:

1. From bondage to spiritual faith;
2. From spiritual faith to great courage;
3. From courage to liberty;
4. From liberty to abundance;
5. From abundance to complacency;
6. From complacency to apathy;
7. From apathy to dependence;
8. From dependence back into bondage.

Professor Joseph Olson of Hemline University School of Law, St. Paul, Minnesota, points out some interesting facts concerning the 2000 Presidential election:

Number of States won by:
Gore: 19
Bush: 29

Square miles of land won by:
Gore: 580,000
Bush: 2,427,000

Population of counties won by:
Gore: 127 million
Bush: 143 million

Murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won by:
Gore: 13.2
Bush: 2.1

Professor Olson adds, "In aggregate, the map of the territory Bush won was mostly the land owned by the taxpaying citizens of this great country. Gore's territory mostly encompassed those citizens living in government-owned tenements and living off various forms of government welfare..." Olson believes the United States is now somewhere between the "complacency and apathy" phase of Professor Tyler's definition of democracy, with some forty percent of the nation's population already having reached the "governmental dependency" phase. If Congress grants amnesty and citizenship to twenty million criminal invaders called illegals and they vote, then we can say goodbye to the USA in fewer than five years.
So I did my due diligence and found it on Of course, as expected, it's not accurate. There was no "Alexander Tyler", Professor Olson didn't do the research, Gore actually took 20 states and Bush 30, and murder rates are closer to 6.5 to 4.1. Fine. Another inaccurate email floating around the Internet. What's new?

I wonder, however, why this kind of thing floats around the Internet for so long? What is it that causes it to circulate? Why is it still here? Likely, the first reason is that it strikes a harmonic note with people. They see truth in it. And when it strikes that note, they pass it on. Couple that with the fact that, seeing truth in it, they tend not to be critical. Critical thinking is something most people reserve for the select few. They might try some critical thinking on something they really don't like. They might allow the critical thinking of others to influence them. But it seems clear that very few who pass this stuff on actually examine the truth claims of a story like this, and that's likely because they agree with it. But I think there is another noteworthy reason that it survives.

Flaws and all, I think there is enough truth in the content that it gives people something to consider. I think, for instance, that, while no Scottish history professor named Alexander Tyler wrote this, there is still truth to the notion -- "A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury" -- and people recognize that. I think that, while Joseph Olson didn't actually do this research and there are factual flaws, there is still enough truth to make the point. Look, for instance, at the 2000 election result map. The number of states may not be accurate or the square miles of land or the numbers of counties or even the murder rate, but it is clear that the "blue" areas tend to be larger cities and the "red" areas tend to be less populated. The "blue" areas likely have higher crime rates and higher welfare rates than the "red". And while "the square miles of land won by" is irrelevant (since land doesn't vote) and murder rates aren't a valid means of determining who should be president, it still points to the cycle that is seen in the Bible and explained in that eight-step process from bondage to bondage. In other words, to many people it strikes a harmonic note because, despite the details that are flawed, the concept is likely true.

Is the U.S. doomed to collapse in five years? I think that's impossible to say and, in fact, unlikely. Is it a problem that much of America is becoming government-dependent instead of independent? It would, in my view, be foolish to deny that fact. Errors aside, the story points to a serious problem. While we need to be clear on the truth and verify our facts and sources, we cannot afford to dismiss something as serious as this because the murder rate numbers aren't quite right. We need to look to ourselves to make sure we're not in that "abundance to complacency to apathy to dependence" category, and we need to pray for those in government.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

O Sacred Head Now Wounded

It's Sunday again, and I'm putting in another hymn. It's an oldie, to be sure, and a lot of you may not have ever heard it. It's painful to sing (because it's in the classical style using archaic language) and it's painful to examine (because it's about the suffering of Christ), but, please, give it a chance. I think you'll find it valuable to examine.
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
Attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153)

O Sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns Thy only crown,
How art Thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!

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

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever! And should I fainting be,
Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee!
The original words to this hymn have been attributed to a 12th-century abbot of the monastery of Clairvaux, France. Recent research has more likely attributed the writings to Saint Bernard, or perhaps a later author, Arnulf von Loewen. The hymn is taken from a seven-part medieval poem that speaks of various parts of Christ's body as He suffered on the cross: His feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and face. It was translated from Latin into German in 1656 and titled, "To the Suffering Face of Jesus Christ." It appeared in 1830 in English after James Alexander translated it from German. Also of note is the harmonization of the hymn by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was a devout Christian who insisted that "the aim and final reason of all music should be nothing else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit." Many of his compositions began with "Jesus, help me!" at the top and closed with, "To God alone be the praise."

The focus of the song is clearly at the Crucifixion. It spends a great deal of time looking at Christ's suffering on the cross. This is not a popular subject in today's churches. The cross was a vicious event in a barbarian society. Our real woes are the pains of today, our struggles and our trials. By "struggles" we mean "sin," but this is another unpopular term. We'd rather attribute our pride, lusts, and idolatry to our parents, or the dysfunctional lifestyle we grew up with, or perhaps the rigors of modern society. So instead of explicitly admitting sin, we dodge the bullet and avoid the responsibility. Thus, the Crucified Christ would not be a favored symbol in our minds. But the cross is the focal point of all of Scripture. It must be ours if we are to look where God would have us look.

Jesus' suffering on the cross exceeds our modern day comprehension. The whips, the beatings, the abuse, the nails, the hours of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual torment are all outside any modern frame of reference. That He chose to do it is unfathomable. This first verse tries to put that across. In this verse are both the Godhood and manhood of Christ. There is the Sacred Head . . . and the wounds. There is the crown . . . made of thorns. This is the face of He who created the morning, now twisted in anguish. Think of it! God chose to die that way for you! And since He was God, it is important to remember that He didn't have to.

If that's true, then why did He do it? The second verse says He did it for my benefit. Is that easy for you to grasp? "Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain." The hymnist has no delusions of avoiding responsibility. No dysfunctional family traditions let him off the hook. No excuses for bad behavior. It is sin that put Christ on the cross -- my sin. "I deserve Thy place." Without this realization, grace is meaningless. If we are not deserving of hell, then we merit God's favor. Grace is unmerited favor. And it is only that unmerited kindness that holds any hope for the sinner. That is the hymnist's prayer. ("Vouchsafe" means to bestow or grant.)

We are a generally ungrateful race and a particularly ungrateful nation. Blessings upon blessings have been heaped all around, but we don't see God's grace. The Church is not exempt from this shortcoming. One would think that the Church would be more tuned to God's tender mercies, but we are just as unappreciative as the world around us. When we look at the cross, this lack becomes unthinkable. For all He did there, for all He did for me, what possible response can there be? "What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend?" This should be our daily thought. It should be the motivating factor in our every waking moment. How can I express my deep gratitude to God?

The truth, however, is that it isn't. We too easily forget God and drift off to our selfish pursuits. That is why Paul assured us that "it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13) To Him goes all the credit, both in obtaining and in maintaining our salvation. We will faint. We will forget. It is only God at work in us that changes that. The hymnist knew this. "Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee!"

We need to be here -- often. We need to spend time at the cross. We need to examine His pain, and see our own responsibility. We need to realize the cost of our salvation. We need to weep over our sin and thank God continuously for His grace. This type of mindset will alter our lives. It will change our behavior and attitudes. The more we reflect on Christ, the more it will make us reflections of Christ.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Black and White in a Grayscale World

What is sin? One might think that it was quite clear. I mean, we've got the Commandments, right? Clear as day. John wrote, "Sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). There, I mean, how much clearer can it get? Well, apparently it's not as clear as one might think.

You would think, for instance, that it was really easy for Adam and Eve. They had two rules ... only two. "Be fruitful and multiply" and "Don't eat of the fruit of that tree." As it turns out, the first legalist was Eve. When the serpent questioned God's words to her, she had already embellished. "God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die'" (Gen. 3:3). Well, Eve, no, that's not what He said. But Eve had decided that if eating it was deadly, then making a new rule that touching it was wrong -- a command from God -- sin -- well, then surely she would never eat of it. Which, of course, turned out to be a failing strategy. A few sentences later she was eating and sharing it with Adam.

And that's what we've been doing ever since. On one hand we create new rules, ostensibly to prevent us from breaking other rules, while on the other hand we break the clear, unequivocal commands we have. So ... what is sin? Oh, we're okay with "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Well, we're okay with it as long as we're not doing it. If we want to do it, well, we'll likely find a reason that that one is okay. But one would think that, given the explicit command, we'd be explicitly clear that adultery is a sin. But what about other things? We all know that lying is a sin ... except that the author of Hebrews lists the lying harlot, Rahab, as a person of faith. What's up with that? Wait, wait ... shouldn't it be clearer than that?

We live in a grayscale world. Most people view most things as "gray" -- maybe good, maybe bad. But have you ever looked at gray print? In truth it is not gray. It is a mix of black and white. When viewed from a distance, it looks gray, but, in fact, it isn't. In that sense ... we live in a grayscale world. Yeah ... it may look gray, but it's not.

Over at this blog, there is a discussion about whether or not it's a sin to go to see the movie Evan Almighty. Such confusion! One side says, "Hey, it's being marketed to Christians. What could be wrong with it?" The other side says, "It avoids Christ and makes fun of the Bible and it's wrong." Of course, there is a whole spectrum in between. And the same arguments occurred over films like Harry Potter and the like. What does the Bible say? Well, you have to know, there's nothing about whether or not to see this movie or any movie for that matter. We might try pointing to Psalm 101:3 when it says, "I will set no worthless thing before my eyes." But that likely encompasses stuff far more far reaching than Evan Almighty, and it's no command. Oh well. The most likely place to go is Romans. Paul said, "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). So it would seem abundantly clear at this point that those who cannot see this film in good conscience would be sinning if they went to see it.

You see, it isn't gray. It is black or white. It is either of faith or it is not. You either are quite confident that it's okay or it is not. And if you are quite confident that it is not ... it is sin for you. Our problem is that we want what we can't have. We want a manual, a program, a listing. "These things are sin and these things are not. They are always sin for everyone without exception." Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you view it), God's way is not like that. Instead, we have a living relationship with the Most High, and each of us is an individual. There are universal negatives, sure, but there is a much broader range of things that are wrong (read "sin") for some people that are not wrong for others.

Perhaps we ought to be more careful. We ought to be careful of passing judgment on the servant of another (Rom. 14:4). We ought to be equally careful about assuring people who are struggling with what they believe to be sinful that it's okay. It may not be. We do live in a grayscale world, but each person has a particular set of black and white. Some black and white is shared. Other areas are quite individual. So when we point at sin, let's be sure it's real. And when we say it's okay, let's be sure it's real. Because I don't think it's nearly as clear as a lot of people seem to think ... in both directions.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Using God's Name in Vain

It doesn't take long, when discussing movies or TV shows with Christians, for the topic of "taking the Lord's name in vain" to come up. Christians, largely, are deeply offended at the flippant use of the word, "God". I, on the other hand, am a bit confused. (Anyone who has read my stuff before would know this. It seems I'm often confused.)

When Moses encountered God in the wilderness, he asked, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" God answered, "I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exo. 3:13-14). It's an interesting thing. Nowhere in that exchange does it say that God's name was ... "God". This, on the other hand, is the origination of the Tetragrammaton -- the four-letter name of God that has been come to be known as YHWH and pronounced, from Latin, Jehovah. It was the Name that, because of the command in Exo. 20:7, the Jews were afraid to speak. Instead they used euphemisms. Matthew, for instance, never refers to "the kingdom of God" but prefers "the kingdom of heaven" because the Name was just too sacred and anything hinting at it wasn't used. It was this Name that Jesus invoked in John 8:58 that pushed the Jews to pick up rocks to stone Him. "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." God's Name is not "God" ... it is "YHWH", "Jehovah" for us English speakers. But it is not "God".

If we examine the term "god" in Bible usage we find that, rather than being a name, it is actually a title. It references anyone of great power. In Psalm 82, for instance, we read, "God has taken His place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods He holds judgment" (Psa. 82:1). Commentators suggest that this is a reference to angels. In this case, Psa. 82:1 would be describing something like Job 1:6 when "the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them." In Psa. 136:2 the psalmist writes, "Give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever." Now, if "gods" was simply a reference to Man's false gods, it would be meaningless. Instead, it is a reference to all who are mighty, including angelic powers and human authorities. These are all "gods" -- "mighty ones" -- who are subject to God, the only true Mighty One.

The One, True "Mighty One" -- God -- is YHWH, Jehovah. That is His Name. When Jesus prayed what we have come to know as "the Lord's Prayer", His first request was "Hallowed be Thy Name." (It's a request, if you'll note. If it was a statement of fact, He would have said, "Holy is Thy Name" or "Your Name is holy." Instead He was requesting that the Father's Name be held as holy.) Just as "Father" is a title, "God" is a title. But "YHWH" is His Name. In that Name all of His character, power, and glory is encompassed. When we pray "in Jesus' Name," we're not praying with a tacked on "in Jesus' Name, Amen" like I learned as a child. We're calling on the Father to answer our prayer based on the character, power, and glory of Christ. That Name is not to be used in vain.

God's Name is not "God". And God's "Name" is not merely a reference to the Tetragrammaton. His Name is YHWH, Jehovah, and His Name represents all that His character possesses and is. That is the part that ought not be used in vain. I suspect that we Christians who complain that the world is improperly using the word "god" just as often reference God's actual Name and His character in vain. Perhaps we ought to be less concerned with the world's ignorance and misuse of a title and more concerned about our recognition of the character of God. Perhaps. Of course, I already said I'm confused, so maybe God was only worried that people might use the title "God" incorrectly.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

On Prayer

I'll admit it. I've had a lot of difficulty with a topic that a lot of Christians don't seem to bat an eye at. It seems patently obvious to them. Not me. I've always been a bit muddled on the topic.

The topic is prayer. More specifically, it is the effectiveness of prayer. The question would seem to be "Why pray?" Now, if you believe in a God with limited knowledge (like the Open Theist types do), then it makes sense. If your God has surrendered some of His sovereignty to humans, then that, too, is reasonable. In these cases God is just waiting for the information or permission He needs to act. If you're one who believes that your faith can bend God's will because He promised it, so you must get it, then prayer makes sense. You've got your Cosmic Butler who, despite His best intentions, is forced to give you wealth and health because you asked in faith. The God I serve, however, is an omniscient God and a Sovereign God. He does whatever He wills. He doesn't need my permission or my information. I don't provide Him with new insights or data points. "Oh, really? They need something? Well, thanks for pointing that out. I didn't notice." He doesn't say, "Well, that was not in my will for you, but I guess I'll submit to your request because you asked." Not the God I know. So it leaves me with the question, "Why pray?"

Oh, I know the answers. We pray because we are commanded to. Don't thumb your nose at that. Whether or not you understand the why, simply because God told you to is sufficient reason to do something. And we are commanded to pray ... multiple times. So pray! We pray because God wants us to participate in His work. He plans to do something and so He lays it on our hearts and we lift it to Him and He does it and we are blessed to be participants in His work. That's a good thing! James says "The effective prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much" (James 5:16). So pray! And there is another side of prayer -- the relational side. It benefits me to be able to take my thoughts and concerns to my Father. Just the act of presenting them to Him is of value to the person doing the praying.

There are answers, but the reason for my question, once it dawned on me, was disturbing. You see, most of us who ask "Why pray?" do so because God didn't do what we asked. Someone we loved died without Christ even though we prayed for them for years and years. We didn't get something we thought we needed despite our pounding the throne of God for it. We are in pain or temptation and despite our desperate pleas for relief we continue to suffer or succumb. Put that way, it sounds fine. Unfortunately the truth is that our complaint is, in its simplest form, "You didn't give me what I asked for!" I know of no one who would actually voice such an objection, it's true, but the sad truth is that "I didn't get what I wanted from God!!!" is the underlying reason many of us question prayer at all. Now that is pretty pitiful.

I'm still not clear on the topic. I know that we don't change God's mind with our prayers. I know that we don't alter His will with our prayers. I know that we don't inform God with our prayers. I know that prayer changes things, but I believe that mostly the things that are changed are the pray-ers. And I know that God uses our prayers in His work, one of His means to His ends. But how exactly prayer works in view of a Sovereign, omniscient God isn't clear to me. How it is that some people get daily answers to every single prayer they pray (it seems) while others seem to live on "unanswered prayers" eludes me. "How to" is a tough one for me because we want a formula, a method, a plan, and prayer doesn't seem to have that so much. I'm not clear on prayer. But I'm commanded to do it and I do want to participate in God's work, so I'll keep it up. I just wish I understood it better.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Happy Blog Birthday

I've been at this for one year now. Time for a retrospective. What have I done?

In the past year I've posted a total of 389 posts, including 9 posts by my son, Jonathan. I've missed a few days ... but only a few -- and one of those was by design. My goal was one a day, and I've posted enough to fulfill that goal. I've posted on 15 different designated topics, but the truth is that most of my posts don't have topics attached. Of the posts with topics listed, I've done 33 on political issues, 26 on marriage issues, 23 on matters of Reformed Theology, and 18 on hymns, and 14 on worship. Odd that "birds" falls below those, isn't it?

The posts that have engendered the biggest response came from a variety of topics. The top ten are:

1 It's Taxing, Isn't It? (On the equalization of tax rates)
2 Peter's "Likewise" (On wives' submission to husbands)
3 Choice and Foreknowledge (On Election)
4 Safer Ground (On husbands' duties to wives)
5 Age of the Earth Controversy (On Creation)
6 Church Attire (On what to wear to church)
7 Apple for the Teacher (On homeschooling)
8 How Limited is Atonement? (On Limited Atonement)
9 Understanding Men (An insight into how men think)
10 A Question of Immigration (On, of all things, immigration)

Most of the comments have been kind. I can't remember any really mean remarks. (If you left one, forgive me for not remembering.) Not all have been in agreement, but it's always good when we can discuss our disagreements in a friendly way. I was interested, in this review, how scattered the topics were. The roles of men and women in marriage from a biblical perspective garnered some 53 comments, more than any other topic. There was some interesting dialog on the subject of the poor because I appeared to step on some toes. So there was a series of posts over a period of time starting with It's Taxing, Isn't It?, then moving on to The Poor You Always Have With You, and finally to Poor Communication, where I try to clear up some confusion due to my communication errors. I was quite surprised to have Brian McLaren take notice of my little blog corner on this topic and actually attempt some dialog on the topic.

There were some posts of mine that seemed to garner no response, and I was a little surprised. Sure, I understood why my readership dropped sharply when I blogged about hymns, but there were others that I thought would be more responsive. For instance, I took on Dan Barker's Easter Challenge and not a peep out of anyone. I would have thought that a subject like Partaking of the Divine Nature would have moved someone to say something. I thought there would have been some response, based on the current popular Christian perspective, about whether or not God is trying to reach as many people as possible and I said He wasn't. One of my personal favorites was Feathers of a Bird (a play on "birds of a feather", in case no one noticed), but that's probably because I just liked the last line: "You can almost knock Evolution over with a feather." And although I took a "far out" position on the subject of contraception, no one uttered a peep. (Get it? "Peep." Oh, never mind.)

That's okay. I've been pleasantly surprised at my readership. I'm a relative no one in a sea of more than 50 million blogs. I'm not a name that draws attention, and I doubt that a title like Birds of the Air makes people want to sit up and take notice. Still, I've had typically 200 to 300 readers a week. That's not a massive number compared to big blogs, but to me it's huge. I don't know that many people. And maybe, must maybe, some of those readers have been blessed once or twice or convicted once or twice ... or both. Maybe, just maybe some of them have even reconsidered something once or twice. Maybe I'll keep this up, at least for awhile longer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Glory of Christ

There is a fascinating phrase in 2 Cor. 4:4 -- "in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." I've often pointed to the fact that the unregenerate are blind and can't see the gospel, but right now I'm looking at that fascinating phrase, "the gospel of the glory of Christ". Apparently Paul believes that the Gospel that we preach is all about the glory of Christ.

To unpack this concept it is necessary to revisit the Gospel. A lot of "Christians" have forgotten what it is exactly. Let's review. I prefer Paul's clearest, most straightforward explanation of the Gospel:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also (1 Cor. 15:1-8).
There it is; the gospel in unvarnished form. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Now, we can debate until the cows come home (which would be a long time for me since I have no cows) whether or not the "essentials" include the doctrine of the Trinity, belief in the Virgin Birth, an inerrant Bible, or a myriad of other things. My focus here is, first, "the gospel of the glory of Christ" and, second, exactly how that gospel is "the glory of Christ."

Paul embellishes his account with lots of important stuff. The Gospel is "according to the Scriptures". The facts of the Gospel are attested to by witnesses ... lots of them. The Gospel is "of first importance". Yes, yes, all of that. But the Gospel is, first and foremost, about Christ who paid the price for our sins and who rose again. That's the Gospel. When we embrace that payment on our behalf and the One who made it (since He is alive), we have forgiveness of sins, His righteousness, and a living relationship with God. If we do not embrace the Gospel, we do not have any of those things. It is such good news ("Gospel") to those of us who have embraced Him and His sacrifice on our behalf!

That Gospel, then, is "the glory of Christ". How is Christ glorified in the Gospel? He is glorified as the Lamb who was slain. John writes about this in the Revelation of Jesus Christ (that is the correct name, folks):
I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."

And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying,

"To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb , be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever."

And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshiped (Rev. 5:11-14).
Now that is a worship service. "many angels" and "the living creatures" and "the elders" and "myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands" all in one voice declaring that "the Lamb that was slain" is worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing ... "forever and ever." What a choir! What an event, one I can hardly imagine! And it is all to the glory of "the Lamb" ... "that was slain". Because He came and died, because He willingly laid down His singularly perfect life on our behalf, because of that choice, that love, that unparalleled act of mercy, Christ is glorified.

Christ is also glorified in the Resurrection. It serves first as confirmation that His sacrifice on our behalf was accepted by God. It concurs with Scripture that says, "Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay" (Psa. 16:10). It also provides a map for us. Christ was a forerunner that showed that we, too, will enjoy Resurrection. This is the primary point of the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Christ is "the first fruits of those who are asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20). His resurrection is part of the plan of subjecting all things to Him, and "when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28). His resurrection provides a blueprint for our resurrection. Paul says, "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body" (1 Cor. 15:42) and promises "I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Cor. 15:51). In the end, the bottom line is that on our behalf through His resurrection Christ has conquered death. "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:56-58). Through His resurrection He gives us victory over death and a reason to abound in "the work of the Lord". That's glory!

The Gospel is indeed good news for us. We must not lose sight of its simplicity (His death on our behalf and His resurrection, in which, if we believe, we are saved and defeat death itself), its power, and its wonder. On the other hand, let us be careful to remember continually that the point of the Gospel, as is the point of everything that exists and everything that occurs, is the glory of Christ. We benefit, but it's really about Him. And we, too, someday will be among the myriads and myriads shouting, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

Monday, June 18, 2007

Glory of God - Sovereignty

Back to the Glory of God.

It's a funny thing. Most Christians agree that God is sovereign. The degree of that sovereignty varies, but most Christians agree that He is sovereign. The odd thing is that you won't find that in many Bibles. The word does not appear, for instance, in the King James Version. In the NASB it occurs once -- 1 Tim. 6:15. In the ESV you can find it three times, including Acts 4:24, Rev. 6:10, and 1 Tim. 6:15. So if it is so spotty a term, why is it universally agreed that God is sovereign?

Well, much like the doctrine of the Trinity, another word not found in the Bible, the attribute of God that we call "sovereignty" may not be found in word, but it is evident throughout the Bible. The Old Testament refers to God as "Most High God" in multiple places (Gen. 14:18-20, 22; Num. 24:16; Deut. 32:8; 2 Sam. 22:14; Psa. 7:17; 9:2; 18:13; 21:7; 46:4; 47:2; 50:14; 57:2 ... you get the idea). There are many references to the Earth as belonging to God (Exo. 9:29; 19:15; Josh 3:11; Psa. 24:1; Isa. 66:1; 1 Cor. 10:26). Of course, the term "Lord" is a reference to ... Lordship -- a statement that He is Master. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, placing Him above all other sovereigns. In 1 Chron. 29:11 we read, "Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all." Now, if the NASB is a little vague there, perhaps the King James will jog your memory: "Thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and Thou art exalted as head above all." We all know the phrase, "Thine is the kingdom." Along the same lines, Jesus told His disciples before He left, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth". (Matt. 28:18). The phrase "all authority" which includes "in heaven and on earth" leaves no authority anywhere to anyone but Him. That's "sovereign".

A sovereign is "One that exercises supreme, permanent authority" (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.) It seems that this is claimed solely for God. Does the rest of the Bible bear it out? Does God do whatever He pleases? Psa. 115:3 says, "But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases." Psa. 135:6 repeats the idea: "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps." He saves who He will (John 10:29), blinds who He will (Luke 10:21), needs nothing from anyone (Acts 17:25), and His dominion knows no end (Exo. 15:18; Psa. 146:10; Micah 4:7; Rev. 11:15). He raises human authority as He wills for His own purposes (Rom. 9:17) and allows them to do what He intends them to do (Acts 4:27-28). It sounds pretty much like "sovereign" to me. Indeed, it sounds like the only "supreme, permanent authority".

God claims to be sovereign ... ultimately sovereign -- Sovereign with a capital "S". There is nothing that occurs outside of His plan. He does as He pleases. He even has made the wicked for a purpose (Prov. 16:4). Many attempts have been made to sidestep this kind of Sovereignty (with a capital "S"). Some think it puts God on the hot seat. They try to minimize the damage by making Man responsible for sin and nature responsible for calamity even though God claims direct responsibility for calamity (Isa. 45:6-7) and God's omniscience makes it unavoidable that He would have to have known and, therefore, have planned for sin, even if He doesn't cause it. As the Westminster Confession puts it, "God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass." That's Sovereignty.

Assuming that our Bibles are right and God is actually as Sovereign as they claim, what does that mean to us? It means that "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13). It means that, despite appearances at times, our world is not out of control. It means that no one is beyond the reach of God to save or assist. It means that no authority out-votes Him. It means that all circumstances in life are for good. It means that when we fail it's God's plan for good and when we succeed it's God's plan for good and while we may be rewarded for success, in the end it is God who gets the glory. And that, in the end, is the ultimate purpose. All that occurs under His Sovereign Hand occurs to His glory. Count on it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

It's Father's Day, and what better way to celebrate than to tell you about my dad?

I have an unusual father. I mean that in the best possible way. I've never really met anyone else like my dad. He doesn't fall into the stereotypes. He doesn't fit the mold. He's not like everyone else's dad. He's a good father.

My dad is a good father for several reasons. First and foremost, he models what he preaches. I've never seen my dad offer advice that he didn't take himself. I've always seen him acting on the principles that he espouses. Funny story that illustrates something of my experience with my father. This occurred way back when I was a kid. We were on a trip (Dad loves to travel) and Dad asked Mom if she had brought a particular pair of pants for him to wear. She hadn't. He said, "Oh, that's too bad. I wish you had." End of encounter. I told my sister, "I hate it when they argue like that" because that was my perspective of "arguing" that I learned from my dad. To my recollection, that was the harshest he ever spoke to her. From the way he interacts with his wife (my mom) to the way that he interacts with his kids (my siblings and I) to the way he interacts with those around him, he is amazingly consistent. One of the reasons for this and one of the things I really appreciate about him is that it is in his character to think rather than feel. I don't mean to suggest that he doesn't feel. That would be nonsense. But he operates basically on a logical rather than emotional basis. And that's a good thing.

I can see this characteristic in a variety of places. When we took our trip together in March, he had the whole thing mapped out in advance. He had researched the best places to stay overnight, what he planned to do at those places, and the best places to buy gas. He had an itinerary both on a map and on a calendar. This is not to suggest that he hasn't a spontaneous bone in his body. When he travels, he likes to explore. So in his meticulous planning, he includes room for spontaneous exploring. "Let's leave a couple extra days at this place because we might find some interesting things to look at between here and there." That kind of thing. But he does that kind of thing in so many areas. He knows what he wants in a church and goes to find it. His experience working for the county of Los Angeles taught him a lot about how to run a county, and he has applied that extensive knowledge to helping run his housing community. He thinks about what he should do, and he does it. I very, very much admire that in my father.

One of the things that is amazing about him is his ability to interact with people. To us kids, my father was always quiet and not very sociable. Turn him loose, however, and he's talking to the guy at the next gas pump or the couple at the next RV spot or the neighbor down the street. In his community, everyone calls him for help because he's always out and about and everyone knows him. He can strike up a conversation with a fellow RVer or a fellow engineer or a fellow fisherman or a fellow human being at the drop of a hat. He is always personable, always knowledgeable, always approachable. We always saw him as quiet and reserved, but that's not the man I observe these days.

Another thing about my father that is a real joy is the long term observation I've had. The truth is that my father when I was growing up is not the same man as my father today. The primary reason that our perception was that he was always quiet and reserved is that he was. He rarely ever expressed an emotion, positive or negative. We almost never saw him angry, but we also almost never saw him elated. He didn't really interact much with us too deeply. Oh, he spent time with us, and for that I'm very grateful, but digging into what we thought, felt, dreamt, etc. ... well, that just wasn't his thing. But God has been working in him over the years. He has become engaged. I've seen him cry when he tells a story that moves him. I've seen him develop a sense of humor, something we rarely saw before. I've seen him love his wife in ways that seemed foreign to him before. He has become the dream husband my mom always wanted. He has become involved in his kids' and their kids' lives like he never was before. He cares like he never did before. This man is a walking, talking, living illustration of the hand of God in someone's life.

I have a lot of reasons to be grateful for my father. These are just a few of them. Thanks, Father, for my father. Thanks, Dad, for being such an excellent dad. Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Glory of God - Omnipotent

One of the attributes of God that most clearly demonstrate His glory is His power. In His omnipotence we get a real, tangible vision of His glory. Imagine, for instance, actually being at some of the events of the Bible.

Israel has just experienced the faith-building experience of all times. Some lunatic named Moses came to them and said, "God said we're going." Very few believed him. Yet, event after event -- ten in all -- occurred that had no rational explanation. God was there and He was real and He was acting on their behalf. The whole thing culminated in the death of every firstborn ... except their own. They were protected. As a result, not only were they being released; they were enriched (Exo. 12:35-36). Now, on their way out, Pharaoh changed his mind and was in hot pursuit. Israel wasn't armed, and they stood trapped between the Red Sea and the army that would either enslave or kill them (Exo. 14). The army, however, was blocked ... by the angel of the Lord. And the sea was parted so that they crossed on dry land. Ultimately, God terminated the pursuit by ensuring that the pursuers died that day (Exo. 14:17, 24-28). Exodus 15 is the song that Moses and Israel sang on that event. In it we see, "I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea" (Exo. 15:1) and "Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy" (Exo. 15:6).

That's an event I would have liked to have seen. God's power marvelously displayed His glory. Another such event was Elijah's duel with the priests of Baal. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah throws down the gauntlet to Israel. "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). All day the prophets of Baal and Asherah danced around calling on their gods to bring them fire, cutting themselves and dancing and shouting, to no avail. Finally, at "the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice" (1 Kings 18:29), they gave up. It was Elijah's turn. He set himself up with an impossible task by dowsing everything in water (1 Kings 18:34-35). Then he made one, simple plea to God. "O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again" (1 Kings 18:36-37). That was it. No shouting, preaching, or dancing. One simple prayer. "Show 'em, God." That was it. And "the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench" (1 Kings 18:38). What an event! The people repented en masse. The false prophets were executed. The rains fell for the first time in seven years. And dear, old Elijah ... he outran the king's chariot going to Jezreel.

That's an event I would have liked to have seen. That is a marvelous display of His glory. His glory is manifested in His power, and there are wonderful displays of power in the Bible. There is the Creation in which God speaks and all that is now comes into existence. That's power. There is the Flood where all life save eight souls is annihilated by God in response to the evil of mankind. That's power. There is the assault on Jericho where the walls fall down without the Israelites bringing them down or the ultimate "battle of the bands" where Jehoshaphat takes his people out to watch God defeat their enemies while the choir sang (2 Chron. 20). That's power. According to Paul, Pharaoh was raised up for the purpose of God displaying His power (Rom. 9:17). And in God's judgment of sinners His power is displayed and His glory is manifested (Rom. 9:23).

God is omnipotent. He possesses all power. In that, His glory is wondrously displayed for us all to see. Some argue that God is hard to find. But on any given starry night a simple look into the vastness of the heavens shows His handiwork and all creation declares the glory of God as His power puts Him on display. It should be the prayer of every believer "to see Your power and Your glory" (Psa. 63:2).

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Glory of God - Holy

The Bible is all about the glory of God. The Gospel is called "the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4). Christ was "raised from the dead through the glory of the Father" (Rom. 6:4). We are blessed with every spiritual blessing to the glory of God (Eph. 1:3-12). We know that in the end every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God (Rom. 14:11). All that has occurred from the creation of all that is to the end of all things has occurred for the glory of God. I thought that maybe it would be a good idea to take a little time to review what it is that makes God glorious.

The Bible lists many attributes of God. We're all aware that He is good and that He is love and that He is just and righteous. These are all true about God. One attribute, however, overshadows all other attributes. It is His holiness. In Isa. 6, the prophet Isaiah says, "In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord ..." (Isa. 6:1). He goes on to describe his vision of God complete with flowing robes, smoke, and seraphim. Isaiah, rather than being gleeful about this encounter with the God that he has been serving for five chapters already, is undone. "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Isa. 6:5). What, exactly, was it that caused Isaiah to actually curse himself? Well, certainly it was the whole package, but there was one particular aspect of his vision of God that left an indelible mark in the rest of his ministry. Isaiah describes the seraphim as calling out to one another, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory." (Isa. 6:3). Ever after Isaiah refers to God as "the Holy One of Israel".

We have a difficult time comprehending this holiness. We think of it as "not sin", and there is certainly that element. But it is much, much more. First, "holy" refers to "set apart". This term essentially means "other". The seraphim were crying out to one another, "God is other, other, other!" As such, He is set apart from sin without a doubt, but He is "other" far beyond the concept of sin. He is "other" in that He is God and we are not. He is "other" in that He is not a man (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Job 9:32; Psa. 50:21). This is one of our extremely common mistakes in our thinking about God -- we think He is just like us. He is not. He is ... other. The other aspect of "holy" that we miss is the Hebraism used. When I want to emphasize something, I might italicize it or put it in bold. I can use an exclamation mark or an underlining. They didn't use those methods. Instead, they used repetition. Repetition, to them, was a sign of emphasis. Jesus, for instance, used this tool on multiple occasions. He always spoke truth, so His disciples should always listen. On occasion, however, He would say, "Verily I say to you ..." This was a sign to the listener. "The truth-sayer is calling attention to the fact that this is truth." It was like a teacher saying, "This may be on the final exam." On rare occasion Jesus went a step further: "Verily, verily I say to you ..." On these occasions, had the disciples been modern students, they would have done well to get out their notepads, turn on their recorders, or do whatever it took to note what followed because the "truth-teller" was calling grand attention to some truth here. In the case of Isaiah's vision, God's attribute of holiness is raised to the third degree. "Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts!" It was as if they were raising the superlatives. "Holy, Holier, Holiest!" Then it was underscored, bold printed, italicized. This was not an everyday attribute; this was the key attribute.

Now, as I said, we can list a lot of attributes for God. He is love, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. He is righteous and merciful, gracious and just. He is creative and sovereign and lots of other attributes. But never do we see any attribute listed to this third degree. Nowhere else do we read that God is "love, love, love" or "gracious, gracious, gracious." Not only is it listed that way in Isaiah 6, it is also laid out that way in Revelation. "The four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, 'HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME'" (Rev. 4:8). So the holiness of God is expounded in both the Old and New Testaments and raised to the third power, so to speak. There is no other attribute of God so greatly emphasized as the holiness of God.

The point is that God is set apart, other. We cannot comprehend the degree to which that is true. And while there are commonalities (we are, for instance, made in His image), we will never be able to encompass God. The finite cannot grasp the infinite. When viewed this way, our puny attempts at explaining God seem feeble. Our ardent attempts to defend God seem nonsensical. Our wondering about why God would do thus and so seems purely childish. God is God; we are not. God is holy, and we can only get a taste, a glimpse of that glory. I suspect that the longer we meditate on the glory of God in His ultimate holiness, the better we will understand the futility of fully explaining Him or arguing against Him, especially in our own lives. I suspect that once we actually get a glimpse of this kind of holiness, we, too, will be on our faces with every single person that ever came in contact with God in real terror crying, "I am unclean!" Then, I think, we would be where we should be in the glorious presence of God.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Comfort One Another

We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Comfort one another with these words.

I recently lost a family member. Okay, "lost" isn't the right word. I know where he is. He died. But, you see, a death in the family is a painful event, so we prefer to replace the hard truth with a euphemism. We "lost" him. He "passed away". And people comfort one another with nice platitudes. "He's in a better place." "You'll see him again someday." Sometimes the platitudes are even true, but, truth be told, the day after your loved one has left this world, they're not very helpful.

I suppose this passage of Scripture is about as close as I get to disagreeing with Scripture. Oh, no, I don't call anything here "wrong". I'm not suggesting that Paul is in error. Paul here has offered information that he hopes will comfort people because their loved ones have passed away, "fallen asleep", died. The comfort is the coming resurrection. The truth, indeed, is that we are not like those "who have no hope". All well and good. I don't disagree that Paul is speaking the truth. But I know, from personal experience, that sometimes the truth, even if it is full of hope, provides little comfort at the "moment of impact".

We all get overwhelmed at times. A loved one dies. We undergo a painful situation. Our circumstances pile up and we are weary and torn. Paul underwent just such an event.
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me —- to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:7-10).
The briefness of the passage belies the point I'm making. Paul endured a "thorn in the flesh". Now, Paul expresses relief at the end here, confident in the power of God, but clearly there was a time period in this story where Paul was not so confident or relieved. He begged God for relief, and not only once -- three times. This was likely a matter of time. It took a response from God to comfort Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." It took time for Paul to find the relief and comfort that he sought.

I recently wrote about "burnout". I believe I spoke the truth. I neglected the truth that those who are in it aren't going to receive much immediate comfort from my urging them to lean on the Source. They're burned out. That doesn't negate the truth of what I wrote. It simply means that the comfort people in those situations require isn't found in a five-paragraph blog, and we who are speaking need to be sensitive to that fact.

Most of us try to be helpful when others around us are suffering. There are lots of reasons that we and those around us endure difficult times and we try to offer nice things to say. Hopefully we are generally offering truthful things. We try to offer hope, comfort, relief. If you are one of those who is currently offering hope, comfort, and relief, keep in mind that the result is not in your hands and it inevitably takes time. Kind words, regardless of how loving and truthful, don't immediately alleviate the pain. And if you are in that position, please be sensitive. Too often our kind and truthful words are ill-considered and end up offering little aid at all. Too often we ignore James's sage advice: "Let everyone be quick to hear [and] slow to speak" (James 1:19). And to those of you who are undergoing hardships, testing, and loss, our prayers are with you. Perhaps the truth offered as relief today is of little comfort, but time will help. Forgive us our inability to remove your pain despite our best intentions. In time, the truth will set you free.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What's Behind It?

I was talking with a good friend of mine. He had found the woman of his dreams. He planned to marry her. She had all the characteristics he wanted and he was in love. Well, all except one -- she wasn't a Christian. It was okay, he assured me, because she was honest about it. She didn't claim to be a Christian. Here was his reasoning: It's very common for people to claim to be Christians and not be, so this was better than that.

It is a very common approach. (Admittedly his reasoning was not quite like that. Honesty requires that his real "reasoning" was "I'm in love with this girl and I'm not really concerned about anything else." But I'm addressing the approach, not his reality.) "If something can be wrong with it, it doesn't matter." How many times have I heard it? People committed atrocities in the name of Christianity, so Christianity must be bad. This or that doctrine has been taken to mean something that is obviously false -- and evil -- so this or that doctrine is wrong. It is possible to take orthodoxy to the wrong place, so orthodoxy is wrong. Too many people claim to be Christians that aren't, so it doesn't matter if you're a Christian.

One would think the error was obvious, but it is so common that I have to conclude that it's not. Let's look at an easy example. "Since a car can be used to run people over, a car must be evil." Now, we all know that cars are neither good nor evil. They're things. What a person does with them is either good or evil. They can be used to kill or to heal. They can be used to injure people or they can take the injured to the hospital to heal them. They can be a method for a drunk driver to kill someone or they can be a method for a good Samaritan to take meals to the elderly. The car is not the issue.

It's the same thing here. What someone does with Christianity doesn't determine the truth or error of Christianity. What someone does with orthodoxy or doctrine doesn't determine the truth or error of orthodoxy or doctrine. Because something can be abused doesn't determine the truth or error of the thing.

Now, I have to say, I would think this would be self-evident. I don't think, with a little thought, that anyone would actually disagree. It is my suspicion that my friend's reality is more common than we like to admit. These arguments that "It can be abused so it's wrong" are more likely due to an underlying belief or feeling, not a cause. I suspect that it's not the argument that they're sustaining; it's the underlying position. Maybe that's the better place to start.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I've spent plenty of time in my life refuting those who disagree with biblical theology. Conversations with skeptics and anti-theists have been many. Disagreeing with non-Christians is a given. It's what we do. In fact, it's biblical. Those discussions are interesting, even stimulating. Sometimes I'll learn things. Sometimes I'll have to research things. Sometimes the objections are new. The tiring part for me is not the discussions with non-believers. Nor are the discussions with people asking questions a problem for me. I'm always glad to answer questions. The part that gets tiring for me is correcting views from my allies.

Maybe you've heard the story; maybe not. It's an illustration of what I'm talking about. Christians were so excited when the story began circulating that NASA had a computer that tracked the locations of planets and stars. You see, they had to know where everything was all the time because if you're launching a spacecraft out there, you need to know where it's going and what will be in its path. Well, as it turns out, they ran this computer program backwards and found that some 3000 (or so) years ago there was a day that was too long. It appears, according to this story, that NASA's computer has verified the story of Joshua's day when the sun stood still (Josh. 10)! Wow! Scientific proof! Of course, it takes very little effort to shoot serious holes in that story. Without knowing the locations of heavenly bodies 3000 years ago, it is impossible to verify that they were in the wrong position 3000 years ago. So boat loads of excited Christians jump on this "make me look stupid" bandwagon using it as "proof", and here I am defending the faith ... against well-meaning believers.

It happens all the time. Misguided Christians offer poorly constructed arguments in uncharitable ways. Then I walk on the scene, and I'm labeled with their poorly constructed arguments and uncharitable ways. Over-enthusiastic Calvinists misrepresent the Reformed faith, and I walk on the scene as a "Calvinist", saddled with their misrepresentations and, too often, arrogant styles. It's usually the two that are the problem: Content and style. I'm often having to explain, "Yes, I know you heard that from your neighborhood Christian or the pastor down the street or some other Christian you've come in contact with ... but it's not what I believe." That's content. More often it's style -- and that's more hazy. I will say something like, "Christianity is exclusive by nature" and the response is angry, defensive, finger-pointing, ready to fight. It doesn't match my tone. When examining what happened, it turns out that the last person who said, "Christianity is exclusive by nature" to them also included, "Any idiot can see that!" So I've been the beneficiary of their blowback. (Now, here's a side story. I looked up "blowback", you know, just to make sure I was using it correctly. The first definition was what I had in mind: "The backward escape of gases and unburned gunpowder after a gun is fired" -- The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Yeah, that was the idea. They took a shot and I got the "unburned gunpowder" from standing behind them. But the second definition was just as good: "Misinformation resulting from the recirculation into the source country of disinformation previously planted abroad by that country's intelligence service." In this case, my blowback is the result of poor transmission of information that ends up "poisoning the well" so to speak and produces disinformation caused by someone trying to argue for the truth. Wow! Now that's a lengthy aside.)

I understand the problem. I doubt that any two Christians would answer every single theological question the same way 100% of the time. So there will be differences of opinion among honest believers. And not all Christians are at the same point of sanctification -- they don't all have "love" as their primary mark of character. (I suppose honesty demands that I admit that very few of us have "love" as our primary mark of character. It's just that there's some more than others.) So between the disinformation and the less-than-loving approach, I'm stuck with defending things or refuting things that I shouldn't have to defend or refute. And I further understand that much of what we use is shorthand. "Calvinist" is shorthand for a set of beliefs that are actually very small in the pile of theological issues of Christianity as a whole (just 5 points, really). If each of us had to stop and explain what we believed every time, it could make some conversations much lengthier than they are now. So it's easier to say, "Oh, I'm a Catholic" or "I'm a Protestant" to get a snapshot of someone's theology despite the vast differences among Catholics (and the confusing fact that "catholic" refers to "universal" while "Catholic" refers to "Roman Catholic") and the even more vast differences among Protestants. Sometimes our shorthand becomes long division.

I guess I'm just spouting off here. In my interactions with others, I've been told many times, "You're not a standard _____." I'm not a standard "Christian", "Calvinist", and many other things (like father and husband). Good or bad, that's significant. When I'm labeled, understand that I may not fit the mold. When I say something that sounds "Calvinish", realize that I may not hold the same view as that loon down the street that told you he was a Calvinist and believed that God forces unbelievers not to believe or some such. And I rarely carry weapons into conversations. It is not often that I intend to be cruel, unkind, rude, or mean. If I say something that someone else said in an unkind or offensive manner, don't assume I mean it the same way. If I don't call you a heretic, don't assume I am calling you a heretic, for instance. I try to be clear. I'm sorry that too often I have to battle misinformation you received from my allies and injuries inflicted on you by my friends. It is this kind of stuff that is so maddening, so tiring for me. Discussions about the truth I like. Explaining away the errors of my cohorts is much more exhausting. So bear with me.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Feeding the Thousands

Most Christians know the story of the feeding of the 5,000. The story is found in Matthew 14. Jesus went away after the beheading of John the Baptist, but found that a crowd had followed. His compassion overwhelmed Him and he healed their sick. But the hour grew late and the people hungry. The disciples told Jesus, "This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves" (Matt. 14:15). Jesus responded, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat" (Matt. 14:16). They assured Him that they lacked the capacity. "We have only five loaves here and two fish" (Matt. 14:17). To their surprise and, perhaps, dismay, Jesus told them to bring Him their meager amount. He had the crowd sit in groups, blessed the food, and distributed it to the disciples who distributed it to the crowd. When they were done, there were twelve baskets of leftovers (Matt. 14:19-20).

I'm not going to debate the miracle. I learned something interesting from this passage that I think we can take away for ourselves. I see a principle here that we can and should use in our daily lives. Look again.

The disciples did the right thing. They saw a need that they couldn't meet and took it to Jesus. They were tuned in to the needs of the crowd -- the crowd was tired and hungry. And they were aware of their own shortcomings -- they didn't have the capacity to feed them. They took it to the Lord in prayer. Jesus responded, "You feed them." What an interesting response! "Lord, there is a need we can't meet." And the Lord responded with "Meet the need." How did He do that? He asked them to take inventory. "You don't have enough to meet their need ... fine. What do you have?" They had enough to feed one or two people. And Jesus, by implication, said, "Good enough -- give me what you have." You know the rest of the story. He blessed it and met the need. But He didn't do it alone. He had them do it. He took what they had, blessed it, and used what they had (in materials, time, and effort) to meet the needs of the crowd.

In fact, this was the same approach with Moses, wasn't it? At the burning bush encounter (Exo. 3), Moses worried about how he would convince the Israelites that he was actually from God? Remember God's approach? He chose to use what Moses had. He had a staff, so God turned it into a snake and then into a staff. He had a hand, so God made it leprous and then clean. He could get water, so God told him He would turn it to blood. God seems to use what we have at hand -- inadequate in and of itself -- to accomplish His plan.

I suspect that we are often like the disciples or Moses in this way. We see a need. "Lord, there's a serious need and I lack the capacity to fix it." And we leave it at that. I suspect that many times what Jesus wants is for us to give Him what we have so He can bless it and use us to meet the needs we cannot meet. I am confident that many times what Jesus wants is for us to give Him what we have so that we can do the ministry to others that we don't have the capacity to do.

I hear too often about "burnout", the apparently common occurrence where pastors and other Christian workers simply run out of steam and cannot continue. I don't understand this concept. The disciples in this case started with insufficient means to meet the need that they saw. All it took was Jesus's blessing and they had more than they needed. I wonder how many times what we call "burnout" is one of two other possibilities. Either the person who burns out wasn't supposed to be there in the first place, or they stopped relying on the Sovereign of the Universe to supply what they needed to perform the task He gave them to perform. The alternative is hard to imagine. In terms of the story, it would imply that the disciples correctly saw a need and Christ certainly called them to meet it and then failed to supply what they needed to accomplish what He gave them to accomplish. "Okay, I said the blessing over your loaves and fishes; now distribute them." And five loaves and two fishes later they're "burnt out".

That's not the God we serve. He is the All-Sufficient One. He supplies what we need, even when we don't see it. And often He calls on us to step out in our weakness to do the miraculous even when we don't see the resources at hand. To participate in a miracle like that would be glorious. I think we all get the chance. Let's taste and see that the Lord is good.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Solid Rock

Another Sunday hymn coming to you ...
The Solid Rock
Edward Mote

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand - all other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;
In ev'ry high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found,
Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.
Edward Mote was born in 1797 to poor, ungodly parents in London, England. The school he attended wouldn't allow a Bible to be seen, and his Sundays were spent on the streets. He grew up ignorant of God, and became a cabinetmaker. One day his master took him to hear John Hyatt and there he met Christ. His life was radically altered.

When he was fifty-five, a church building was completed for his Baptist congregation due largely to his effort. The congregation offered him the deed out of gratitude, but he refused. "I do not want the chapel; I only want the pulpit, and when I cease to preach Christ, then turn me out of that." He served there for the next twenty-one years until he resigned due to poor health a year before his death.

This hymn was written in 1834 and titled, "The Gracious Experience of a Christian." It originally had six verses. The two omitted verses are interesting to note:
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
'Midst all the hell I feel within, on His completed work I lean.

I trust His righteous character, His council, promise and His power;
His honor and His name's at stake, to save me from the burning lake.
(Why were these verses omitted? Are they too controversial? Do we not want to hear about hell or judgment?)

The hymn was released in 1836 under the name "The Immutable Basis of a Sinner's Hope." The hymn expresses the confidence found in the blood, righteousness, unchanging grace, promise, and covenant of Christ. What better place to hope! Surely all other ground is sinking sand.

The hymn points out a vital doctrine in Christianity. Most religions claim to attain heaven by good works. Even we Christians, while discounting their philosophy, view ourselves as more righteous individuals. Certainly we're valuable people. The claim of Scripture, however, is that there is none good, and that my only value, my only righteousness, my only hope lies in the person of Jesus Christ.

The fact is, although His death and resurrection made Jesus special, His sinless life made Him unique. The crucifixion would have been meaningless without His righteousness, for it was His righteousness that qualified Him to pay for my sin. Our hope, then rests solely on Jesus' death in my place and the sinlessness that enabled it, that is, "Jesus' blood and righteousness." Nothing within any of us can add to or enable our forgiveness. No morality, no sacrifice, not anything will change that truth.

The refrain points to the only safe place to stand: "On Christ, the Solid Rock." The concept of Christ, the Rock, is a common one in Scripture 1. It brings to mind some very clear pictures. His immutability, His faithfulness, His solidity, all this and more are represented in this image. It is upon this Rock that we are to build our house (Matt. 7:24-27). All other ground is sinking sand. Where do you "build your house?" Are you more at home in the truth of Scripture or the claims of today's thinking? Is, for instance, self-esteem and self-fulfillment a priority? Or is self-denial your preference? The two views are in direct contradiction. Which is yours? The church in America has, in many cases, strayed from the Rock and built on sinking sand.
When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;
In ev'ry high and stormy gale My anchor holds within the veil.
The second verse deals with one of the difficult questions for Christians. Where is God when it hurts? How do we deal with trials and tribulations, when our very core of faith is assaulted? The hymn looks to the character of God Himself. "I rest on His unchanging grace." "My anchor holds within the veil." "Within the veil" refers to the holy of holies, the place in which God dwells. It is in the presence of God that peace occurs. Where is God when it hurts? Right beside me. How do I deal with trials? Resting in the proven faithfulness of God.
His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
In the book of Job, God allowed Satan to strip away all of Job's obvious support. With family, wealth, and health gone, Job was left with a wife who urged him to "curse God and die" and three "friends" who assured him that God only did this kind of thing to sinners. Now, God's ways are far above ours. His reasons may not be clear or simple (although they are always right). But one of His intents was to strip Job of all but dependence on Him. We see this as Job gears up for a case against God (Job 31:35-37) and then faces the inquisition to end all inquisitions (Job 38 41). Job ends in repentance (Job 42:1-6). This is God's aim. So says James (James 1:1 4). Our growth occurs in trials.

This is the same message in the third verse of this hymn. "When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay." This has always been God's plan our total dependence on Him. In the garden of Eden, we see God providing both of our necessities: significance and security. Man had a job to do (significance) in the dominion of the earth (Gen. 1:28). God provided for him (security) in this task (Gen. 1:29, 30). All of life is God's constant supply of security and significance. But our sin nature blinds us to both. So God is in the business of constantly stripping from us all but Himself. He alone is our hope. That's why we can stand on Christ, the Solid Rock.
When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found,
Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.
One leading complaint about the church is that it is full of hypocrites. This seems ludicrous at first glance since the prerequisite to coming to Christ is a recognition of sin. Churches are, essentially, a group of admitted losers. But a strange thing occurs thereafter. Somehow we become convinced that because we are saved, we are better. We are more obedient, more acceptable to God, more righteous. This is self righteousness, the miserable condition for which Christ lambasted the Pharisees (Matt. 23:1-36).

The last verse of this hymn holds the truth that corrects this problem. The fact is we possess no righteousness. There is no good in us (Romans 3:10-18). The righteousness required by God to enter His presence is provided by Christ alone. "Clothed in His righteousness alone." All my value, all my good, all my righteousness is a result -- a gift -- of Christ. Only His righteousness allows me to stand faultless. There is no other hope.

His blood, His righteousness, His faithfulness, His promise. He is my only hope. He is the Solid Rock. All other ground is sinking sand. Where is your footing? Do you trust your capabilities? Friends? Family? Or do you see Christ as your only hope? All other ground is sinking sand.

1 There are over 20 references to God as the Rock in Scripture. See Gen. 49:24; Deut. 32:4; 32:15; 32:18; 32:30; 32:31; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:32, 47; 23:3; Psa. 18:31; 18:46; 19:14; 28:1; 42:9; 78:35; 89:26; 92:15; 95:1; 144:1; Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Peter 2:8.