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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Thief at the Door

We all know what pornography is. It's that unabashed display of sexuality that is offered in most video stores or in that rack of magazines behind the counter or in some adult "bookstore" (as if it's a reading thing). Well, okay, that is pornography, but most people don't realize that the pornography we most readily identify is not the only form -- it's the male form. There is also a female version. You might know it by its most recognizable trademark name, Harlequin Romance. It surely doesn't stop there. No, it's not visual. There is no doubt, however, that it is pornographic. It appeals to the woman's emotions, drawing graphic images of a stunning young man who sweeps the young, mildly protesting damsel off her feet and makes her his. It's just as much pornography as the male version without the blatant visuals.

There has been some debate among Christians as to whether or not such things should be allowed in our bedrooms. One side argues that what goes on behind closed doors between a husband and a wife is between a husband and a wife. Doug Wilson, author and pastor of Christ Church of Moscow, Idaho, gave an excellent illustration of the problem with this idea. Imagine you're a happily married Christian couple, and your new neighbors drop by for a visit. "Hey," they say, "you're a lovely couple. Why don't you come over to our house and have sex with us?" "Oh, no," you politely but firmly say, "we don't do that kind of thing." "Oh, okay," they continue, "then how about coming over and watching us have sex?" "No, no ... no thanks," you reply. "Oh, alright, we'll tell you what. We'll video our sex and you can watch it in the privacy of your own home." You see, while it may be true that what goes on behind closed doors between a husband and a wife is between just them, the minute you invite pornography into that session, it is no longer simply between husband and wife.

There is another reason not to do it. Pornography is a thief. We understand that The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings is fantasy. We don't actually believe that there is as White Witch or Orcs. We have mental mechanisms that classify that as "fantasy" and not "reality". Pornography, on the other hand, seems to bypass those mental mechanisms. Men and women alike seem to get caught in this vortex of the lie, telling them that women are supposed to be look like this and men are supposed to act like that and people are supposed to do these kinds of things in the bedroom and react that kind of way. And we buy the lie, entirely forgetting that they are actors and actresses in a movie, models in a magazine, or fictional characters written into a book. They are fantasy characters, built to cater to the unreal dreams of men and women alike. Unfortunately, people who go there begin to lose their grip on reality. This media steals your joy of the real thing and substitutes unrest for something that doesn't exist. They think that women are objects, sex is simply a physical act, and men are to be held to fantasy standards. They steal from us things that no insurance company can replace and no amount of money can buy back.

One of the problems is illustrated by Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. The movie went a long way toward capturing the physical trauma Jesus endured at His crucifixion. What the movie was unable to portray was the much greater torment He suffered when He was separated from His Father. In a similar way, pornography goes a long way toward displaying the physical and perhaps even the emotional (in female pornography) aspects, but it misses the key point. When God instituted marriage, it included "they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Paul says that in the act of sex there is a union that occurs that is not visible; neither is it avoidable (1 Cor. 6:16). Pornography misses this union, lies to us about its existence, denies the spiritual aspect of sex, and diminishes God's design to a mere physical act.

Isn't it sad that so many -- even Christians -- invite this thief into their homes? They don't seem to realize the addictive nature. They don't seem to recognize the message that whatever you are isn't good enough and whatever you're doing isn't enough. The losses are phenomenal ... and we invite this thief in!

Don't get conned. The warning won't show up in your email. You won't likely see an exposé on CBS. There will be no complete story at 11. If you let this thief in, you'll lose more than you realize. The longer you let him stay, the more he is entrenched. It's not worth it. Whether it be the romance novel or the sex video, you cannot afford to let it in your house.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bad News - Who Needs It?

Great news! I won't be going to the hospital!

I've been concerned of late about the glazing over of the bad news that we've seen so much these days in the messages offered from Christians. I think we are not doing the Gospel justice by ignoring the sin problem. Some people have suggested that I'm overly concerned. Some people have indicated that it's not as big a deal as I think it is. My contention has been this: Without bad news, there is no good news. Without the problem of sin, clearly and carefully laid out, the Gospel just isn't that big of a deal.

Well, over the last few days I had the opportunity to experience the perfect example. A couple of years ago I went to the doctor for a pain in my leg. Now, I'm no medical alarmist, but this thing had been bothering me for too long, so I went. The doctor panicked. "Get out of here and get to the emergency room right away!" So I spent the next 8 hours in the hospital while they tested for and confirmed a blood clot in my right leg. Fortunately, it was below the knee. I went home with self-administered injections and an array of other treatments to come.

That incident passed, but my doctor made me acutely aware that I was in danger for the rest of my life, so I needed to be careful. So the when I noticed a pain in my left leg that had the same symptoms as the one years before and no reasonable explanation to explain it away ... I became concerned. I waited a few days and then went to the doctor on Friday (different doctor than before). The doctor sent me for testing. And the ultrasound technician seemed to linger in a couple of places that suggested that indeed there was cause for concern. Unfortunately, my doctor didn't get the results on Friday. So, while a potential death-threat sat in my leg over the weekend, I waited for the doctor to get back to me. On Monday morning, the doctor finally called. "The test came back negative. It looks like there is no problem. Take some Tylenol for the pain. You'll be fine in a few days."

Now, you can imagine my relief. What looked like a potentially heart or lung-stopping problem at worst and likely a lifetime of medicine at best suddenly became ... nothing. I was elated. But picture me at work just having received this good news. No one knew of my concerns. No one was aware that I had gone to the doctor for such a serious thing. So ... how do I express the joy and gratitude I was experiencing? How do I tell the people around me who hadn't gone through the concerns I had kept to myself all of last week? How do I convey that I was going to live when everyone already assumed you were? How do I get across "I don't have to go to the hospital!!!" when no one thought I did?

You see, to anyone on the outside, my good news was useless. "Of course you're not going to die. Of course you're not going to the hospital. Why would you think otherwise?" To me, knowing the potential bad news, it was truly good news.

Are we doing anyone any favors by soft-pedaling sin and simply warming their hearts with "Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life"?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Denominational Humor

If you can't laugh at yourself, you shouldn't be allowed to laugh at others. And if your particular denomination isn't included here, trust me ... there's likely a line for them, too. Enjoy.

How many Charismatics does it take to change a light bulb?
Five. One to change the bulb and four to bind the spirit of darkness in the room.

How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?
None. God has predestined when the lights will be on.

How many neo-evangelicals does it take to change a light bulb?
None. They can't tell the difference between light and darkness.

How many TV evangelists does it take to change a light bulb?
One. But for the message of light to continue, send in your donation today.

How many independent Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one because any more would be compromise and ecumenical standards of light would slip.

How many liberals does it take to change a light bulb?
At least ten, as they need to hold a debate on whether or not the light bulb exists. Even if they can agree upon the existence of the light bulb, they still may not change it to keep from alienating those who might use other forms of light.

How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?
None. They use candles.

How many campfire worship leaders does it take to change light bulb?
One. But soon all those around can warm up to its glowing.

How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?
Four. One to change the bulb. One to bless the elements. One to pour the sherry. And one to offer a toast to the old light bulb.

How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?
At least 15. Three committees to approve the change, schedule the change, and plan the associated potluck dinner, and one to actually change the light bulb.

How many Nazarenes does it take to change a light bulb?
Six. One woman to replace the bulb while five men review church lighting policy.

How many United Church of Christ members does it take to change a light bulb?
Eleven. One to change the light bulb. And ten more to organize a covered dish supper that will follow the changing of the bulb service.

How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?
We read that we are to so fear and love God that we cannot by our own effort or understanding comprehend the replacement of an electromagnetic photon source. It is, rather by faith, NOT by our efforts (effected toward the failed worldly incandescence), that we truly see, and that our own works cannot fully justify us in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Of course, it is still dark.

How many Amish does it take to change a light bulb?
What's a light bulb?

How many Mormons does it take to change a light bulb?
Five. One man to change bulb and four wives to tell him how to do it.

How many Unitarians does it take to change a light bulb?
We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb, and present it next month at our annual Light Bulb Sunday Service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life, and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.

How many United Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?
Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved -- you can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Church wide lighting service is planned for Sunday. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Have You Seen Jesus, My Lord?

When was the last time you saw the Lord?

Okay, unclear question. When was the last time you were really in the presence of God?

There are certain telltale signs to look for. Most likely you won't come away feeling "warm" or on some sort of spiritual high. In Scripture, every person who recognizes the presence of God has a universal response: terror. Why terror? Because every person who comes into the presence of the Holy recognizes immediately their own unholiness.

The first negative emotion in Scripture comes from Adam when he hears God in the garden and he was afraid (Gen. 3:10). Jacob had a dream about angels and responded in fear (Gen. 28:10-17). Moses found that a burning bush was actually the presence of God and was too afraid to look (Exo. 3:6). When God spoke to Israel, they were terrified (Deut. 5:4-5). Aaron and the Israelites were afraid of the mere reflection of God seen in Moses's face (Exo. 34:30). When Gideon figured out that he was actually in the midst of a conversation with the Divine, his response was the certainty that he would die (Judges 6:22). Isaiah, a prophet of God, responded to the presence of God with "Woe is me!" (Isa. 6:5). Habakkuk took God to task for not responding to Israel's sin, but when God responded, Habakkuk said, "I heard and my inward parts trembled; at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble" (Hab. 3:16). In the New Testament, a storm on the Sea of Galilee was scary to the disciples, but when Jesus demonstrated His deity by calming that storm, "they became very much afraid" (Mark 4:41). When Peter pulled up fish at Jesus's command, he didn't show up with a contract; he begged Jesus to leave (Luke 5:8). If you have spent time in the presence of God, you have been made acutely aware of your own sin. It is the biblical hallmark of a human being in the presence of God.

I particularly like Isaiah's story. I think it captures all the primary points that someone will experience in the presence of the Lord.
1 In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, "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." 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven." 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isa. 6:1-8).
The time was a time of crisis. King Uzziah was a godly king, but died a leper for assuming rights with God that He didn't have (2 Chron. 26). The nation was in moral decay. And Isaiah was God's man on the scene.

The image of God is majestic. Anyone who comes into His presence cannot come away feeling it was irrelevant or boring. And the primary focus of entire scene was God in His Holiness. Some see the repetition as a pointer to the Trinity. Others point out that a repetition is a strengthener, making God's Holiness the most important characteristic He has. Whatever it is, it is important ... not Isaiah or even the seraphim. Being in the presence of God calls attention to the majesty of God.

The response is universal. Isaiah's "woe is me" isn't light. It is a curse on himself. He is undone. He is coming apart. This man, God's man on the scene, already 5 chapters into speaking for God, comes to see that he suffers from "unclean lips" and lives "among a people of unclean lips". Isaiah was quite sure it was over for him. He deserved death ... and that would be merciful. Being in the presence of God requires a cleansing of self.

The necessary action is taken. Isn't it interesting that God doesn't say, "Don't worry, Isaiah, you're not that bad," nor does He say, "You're right, you worm -- writhe in My presence"? Instead, an angel from God brings the remedy. "You're right, Isaiah, you're a man of unclean lips; I can fix that." But immediately upon the pressing of the burning coal onto Isaiah's lips (No one ever said that the remedy to sin was pain-free.), there is a call for action. "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" And Isaiah, the man whose lips were unclean but were now treated by God's treatment, cannot fail to respond. "Here am I. Send me!" Being in the presence of God requires an obedient response to serve Him.

Maybe this Sunday you felt like you were in the presence of God. Perhaps not. Did you have a feeling of warmth toward God? I see no biblical precedence that says that anyone responds this way to His presence. Did you have a real sense of your own sinfulness? Did you have a driving need to repent? Did you sense within yourself that you needed to do for God what God wants you to do? Then you were likely in the presence of God.

When was the last time you were really in the presence of God?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Defense Mechanism

I have a couple of friends who used to strike me as gullible Christians. You know the kind. Someone gives them an idea that starts with "God wants you to ..." and follows it with Bible-lite proof, and they're off and running considering whether or not they need to change. At the time it struck me as too easily persuaded. Now I'm not so sure.

I realized that these friends lacked one of the most common defense mechanisms that most of us have. That mechanism is simple: "What is the least I have to do to be saved?" Oh, we never actually voice it, but it's the common concept. We turn "What must I do to be saved?" to "What are the essentials of salvation?" with the conclusion that "anything more is heresy." We'll put nasty-sounding labels on it like "legalism" or "Phariseeism", set up warning flags, and alert people to the error. There are groups that have started up to shout the good news that "There is absolutely nothing you have to do to be saved except believe!", leaving "do" and "believe" with definitions so ambiguous that I hear people say, "Well, if a person believes in God, then they're saved, right?" And you can see the reasoning. 1) Jesus is God. 2) You don't have to do anything. 3) If you believe "in God", and Jesus is God, and you don't have to do anything else, well, then, you're saved! In other words, "What is the least I have to do to be saved?"

My friends completely lack this defense mechanism. They have a bizarre perspective that runs 180°counter to that idea. They think, "I want to do anything and everything that God would have me to do. Further, I don't think I've arrived. So I'm going to keep on the lookout for anything else I'm missing." Strange people indeed. Well, you know those sinners. They must sinned much and been forgiven much, eh? Luckily, we don't have that problem. "Thank you, God, that we are not like those sinners ..."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Men and Church

Yesterday I asked, "What is a Man?" I looked at various characteristics of stereotypical "maleness", the things that are largely typical of what is considered "masculine".

With that in mind, I want to examine men and church. David Murrow has written a book called Why Men Hate Going to Church. So dedicated is he to this concept that he has even started a website devoted to the problem. He has ideas on why men don't like to go to church and what to do about it.

I don't think there really is a question about the notion that men don't go to church as much as women. Clearly more women attend than men. Many women bemoan the fact that there are too few men in church these days. Some of them are wives who are upset that their husbands don't want to be there. Many are single women who find that most of the men at church are married me ... who are often there to avoid conflict with their wives. Single men and young men are in short supply at church. There really is no debate about this fact.

The reasons are manifold. The perception after centuries of effort is that Jesus was largely effeminate, and men ought to be like Jesus. There is a heavy stress on characteristics like humility and compassion as demands for being a good Christian. Toughness is not seen as a Christian trait. Anger is definitely not a Christian trait. Typically in churches men are a problem and women are the fix. Take, for instance, the comparison of your standard sermons on Mother's Day and Father's Day. On Mother's Day, women are applauded and celebrated (as they should be). On Father's Day, men are told to be better men. Hey, wait! What happened to "applauded and celebrated" for fathers? No, men are the evil; women are the good. Masculine traits are no more acceptable in church than they are in society ... perhaps even less so. Still think I'm off the mark? How about this? One of the indisputable facts is that men, as major producers of testosterone, tend to have a stronger sex drive than women. It's a physical fact. Ask yourself, "How is this viewed in the church?" Clearly this is a problem to be solved, not a gift from God nor something to be discussed and assisted. And, of course, there is the music. Most worship music today is aimed straight at the emotional center ... something that is clearly not typically not "masculine".

So, over the centuries, the church has shifted its methods and aims away from "masculine" and more toward "feminine". Is there any wonder men feel out of place in church?

Murrow argues in his book that the problem is in the method. Like so many others who are addressing problems in church, he misses the point. Churches are not about method; they are about truth. The problem in churches is not that they have improper methods; it is that they aren't addressing the truth.

What do I mean? What truths are they missing?

They are missing the truth that Jesus was not effeminate. He was compassionate but strong. Humility itself is misrepresented today. The idea presented as "humility" is weakness. The biblical form of humility is strength under control. The biblical example of absolute power under control ... is Jesus who was willing to serve even though He was God (Phil. 2:5-8). This was real strength. They are missing the truth that while we are commanded to be as innocent as doves, we are also commanded to be "shrewd as serpents" (Matt. 10:16). They are missing the fact that the Bible is full of distinctions between men and women that should be taught, encouraged, and groomed. One thing that I consider a significant lack that would affect men is the clear command of Christ, "make disciples" (Matt. 28:19). We aren't commanded to make converts; we are commanded to be "teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt. 28:20). We are commanded to engage in relationships with people that continue from "Here's the Gospel" through spiritual maturity. This is something that would engage men because it would be "man to man". Yet it is almost unheard of in the church today. They are ignoring biblical commands like "be angry" and focusing on "and sin not" (Eph. 4:26). They are offering men a passive role when the Bible calls on them to be engaged on a constant basis. They are ignoring the concepts that an entire book of the Bible -- The Song of Solomon -- teach. Can you imagine if that was taught in churches today? Can you imagine if women were taught that they should fulfill their sexual duty to their husband (1 Cor. 7:3)? Can you imagine the outrage if they taught that women should "stop depriving" their husbands (1 Cor. 7:5) or that, lie of all lies, "The wife does not have authority over her own body" (1 Cor. 7:4)?

There is a problem in the church today that causes men to be less of a component. It isn't a deficiency in Christianity. It is a deficiency in the church -- small C. It is a refusal to take into account the whole counsel of God and, instead, an attempt at coercing men to be more effeminate. It is an ignoring of the needs and character of men while elevating the women of the church. While the standard complaint is that Christianity is patriarchal, the patriarchs are being formed into matriarchs ... and most men just aren't interested in being castrated. Maybe churches should consider a shift to the truth, the whole truth.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What is a Man?

What is a man? What is it that defines "maleness"?

Physically, science will tell us that it is that Y chromosome. That determines whether a person is male or female. That determines what reproductive organs a person will have, the singular distinctive. Of course, I'm not looking for that aspect of male. We know, for instance, that some people with the Y Chromosome feel as if they should be female ... and even take drastic medical steps to make themselves that way. They seem to be lacking "maleness" even though they have the physical requirements in place. So what is it that defines "maleness"?

It does no good to argue that men and women are the same. They simply aren't. Despite the best efforts of society in general and feminists in particular, men are not women. Indeed, the cry that men should "get in touch with their feminine side," rather than equalizing, demonstrates a difference. There are traits that are feminine and traits that are masculine. What are those masculine traits? It also does no good to argue that not all men have a particular masculine trait. Even the Bible recognizes that a man can be "effeminate". (Note that the same exception clause applies to those rare women who bear masculine resemblance.) The exception does not negate the norm. So, regardless of their universality, what are typical masculine traits?

Men are typically regarded as more powerful than women. Sometimes that power is physical. Most people agree that the strongest men in terms of muscular power or physical prowess will always be stronger than the strongest women. It seems to simply be a matter of physical construction. A corollary to this, then, is the perception that males are tougher than females. This is often a matter of physical structure, but it is equally a matter of emotional capability as well. Women tend to be more sensitive, more compassionate, more emotive, while men tend to be viewed as the opposite. Stereotypically, for instance, if a cat is killed in the road and a husband and wife come across it, the husband will be required to clean up the dead body because the wife will be too upset. That's the kind of "tough" to which I'm referring. Generally, the perception is that men are not as in touch with their emotions as women are.

Men tend to be more assertive, more risk-taking. An illustration might do. When I was a young father, we had a beach near us that had a small cliff face and a small "private" beach area. You could always tell the kids who were with their fathers and not their mothers because the fathers would let those kids climb down the rocks to this fun spot while mothers wouldn't allow it. It was too dangerous. Stereotypically, men tend to be more independent and aggressive. They tend to be more logical and objective. They tend to be more dominant. Generally, it is the father in the family who disciplines his children, not the mother. Men tend to be more visually-oriented. Men tend to be more ambitious, more success or goal oriented, and certainly more competitive than women. One thing that almost all men have in common is that they want to feel significant. They want to feel as if they are necessary, respected, doing something worthwhile. It is interesting that one of the very few specific commands of God to wives on how they should treat their husbands is to respect them (Eph. 5:33).

Keep in mind, now, I'm speaking stereotypically here. There are exceptions among men and exceptions among women. More to the point, there are modifications. Our society for quite awhile now has decided incrementally that men shouldn't be men. Their physical superiority leads to greater damage in a fight, and that's bad. Their diminished sense of compassion can fail to stop them from doing harm. The very things that make them "male" also can make them harmful. So "male" is bad, we've decided, and "female" is good. Let's make them all "female".

The twisting here of truth and right is a serious problem. First, it ignores the fact that "feminine" has traits that can cause damage as well. "Masculine" is not the only culprit. Second, it ignores the fact that God made men. He had a reason for making them different from women. We should be celebrating the differences while cultivating the necessary mechanisms to prevent the abuses, not eliminating the differences. That says, "Yeah, God, we got that You intended it that way, but we're certain You were wrong and we're quite sure we have a better idea." If God is God and He intended men to be men and women to be women, it is essential that we stop pressing men to be "in touch with their feminine side" and learn, instead, to handle their masculine side. It seems to me that men and women, rather than countering each other, complement each other, making up in their strengths for the weaknesses in the other. Perhaps we should teach men and women to play to their strengths and stop trying to be the other.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Husbands, Love Your Wives

Husbands, love your wives.

Our lives these days are complicated by many things. We have political and environmental woes, economic worries, cultural issues, declining moral values, and churches that are straying from the Gospel to matters less important. There are these and a whole host of other things over which we have no control weighing on our daily lives. There are, however, things that we do control. There are areas of our lives, in fact, in which we have a higher impact than any other human being.

Husbands, love your wives.

Humans have a variety of relationships. We have family and friends, co-workers and bosses, neighbors and compatriots. We choose some and some we don't. The most intense of these relationships is generally family which, oddly (because it is the most intense) we don't choose. We don't get to decide who our parents will be. We don't get to decide who our aunts, uncles, or grandparents will be. We don't get to decide who our siblings will be, and we certainly don't get to decide whom they will choose for a spouse. The most personal of all these familial relationships, however, is our own choice. As such, we have the most impact in that area of life.

Husbands, love your wives.

Much is made these days of the biblical concept of "mutual submission". In Eph. 5:21 we read, "Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." Plain as day. The very next verse is the hot button issue that sparks this "mutual submission" drive. "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22). "Oh, that's not right," they say. "It must be mutual submission -- 'subject to one another." It's a funny thing, though. The actual text behind verse 22 doesn't actually have the word "subject" in it. Most literally, it would read, "Wives, to your own husbands ..." The word "subject" is implied from verse 21. So maybe it is about mutual submission. I think it is. But that's where I stop agreeing. Most people who argue for mutual submission argue for mutual submission in kind. To me that's a nonsensical concept. "You submit to me and I submit to you. You obey me and I obey you." Huh?? Take it to the text and it gets even more bizarre. Wives submit to their husbands "as to the Lord." Yeah, you know, like the way God submits to us. Oh, wait ... that's not right. So in what sense can I agree that it is mutual submission? It is mutual in that both sides submit ... lay down their selves. (Sorry about the grammar.) Both sides set self aside for the other, but they don't necessarily do it in the same way. Wives give their husbands what they need, which primarily is devotion and respect. Husbands, on the other hand, are commanded to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the Church (Eph. 5:25). In what way was Christ in submission?
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8).
He died. He was equal with God, and He quite literally humbled Himself to death. That, husbands, is submission. Oh, He didn't surrender His role as the leader of the Church. He didn't surrender His God-given authority. Indeed, because of that humbling, Paul goes on to say that He was elevated above every other name, and everyone would call Him ... get this ... Lord (Phil. 2:9-11). Yes, He subjected Himself to death for the sake of the Church. No, He didn't submit to obeying the Church.

Husband, love your wife. Love your wife just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). Learn to set self aside on her behalf. Learn to teach her the Word (Eph. 5:26). Learn to understand her (1 Peter 3:7). Don't wait for her to be a good wife. Treat her as a precious treasure. Stop complaining about her faults and give her the security and love she needs. Love her as you love your own body.

There are many problems in our world today. Most of them are beyond our capacity to change. We have many relationships in life. Most of them are not of our choosing. But husbands, we have a clear, unequivocal command from God to set our own preferences aside in favor of our wives. We have the model we need in Christ. We know what it looks like because we do it to ourselves every day. We have no excuse because we are enabled by God to do what we need to do.

Husbands, love your wives.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Voting Rights

Over at Blog and Mablog, Doug Wilson has an exhortation for Christians as we ride this political roller coaster called "presidential elections" (actually, any elections will do). The article, entitled The Altars of Democracy, concludes,
When you vote, it should be as an act of faith in God. You are not showing faith in them, or in the process, or in democracy. You have faith in Jesus, and whenever the larger society invites us all to register the presence of salt and light, we should do so. Not on their terms, and not the way they intend. They may read it all wrongly, and if they even notice, they probably will read it wrongly. But we should do so anyway.
I hear echoes in the background, other Scripture references answering back. I hear "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7). I hear, "There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom. 13:1). I hear Paul's assurance that "God works all things for good" (Rom. 8:28) and Joseph's confident, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). And although I might chide Abraham for being a little out of context, I hear, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Gen. 18:25) because the idea is absolutely true.

Imagine that! Vote as an act of faith in God. Don't vote for someone because you're hoping to stop something from happening (as so, so many are suggesting). Don't vote for someone because you're afraid of what might happen if you don't. Even if a candidate like Huckabee is an option (someone I think most closely represents my views), don't vote as if the government is the answer. Vote as an act of faith in God. And that doesn't include, "Well, that only counts if someone notices." You know, "What's the point of voting in faith if the person for which you vote doesn't get elected? I've wasted my vote." Is that how faith works? It only counts if someone says, "Hey, that was real faith on your part!"? It only counts if you get what you want? Jesus "voted" against the cross if possible, but that wasn't a lack of faith, nor did the fact that the cup did not pass from Him mean that He wasn't acting in faith.

We Christians talk a good game much of the time. We stand for truth. We stand against evil. We argue for what's right. But when it comes to the voting booth, so many of us seem to get tripped up. "I need to vote for the lesser of two evils," we think, "because if I don't, the worse of two evils will get into office." As if God doesn't have a say? As if someone might gain authority that God never intended? As if the answer is in the office? As if you get to decide, ultimately, to whom God intends to give the authority? No, vote as an act of faith in God, not in democracy or the power of your vote. When viewed in terms of the power of your vote, it is pitiful power. When viewed as an act of faith in God, it's not possible to lose. That's how I plan to cast my vote.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Christians are known for a variety of things, but one thing for which we are well known is our insistence on the existence of Absolute Truth. The concept is absolutely necessary. And we will point to a variety of things as absolute. Jesus is God. All humans are sinners. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Absolute truth.

Sometimes, however, as we stand for Absolute Truth, we are not careful about what we hold as Absolute Truth. We say, "It's in the Bible; it must be Absolute Truth." Well, yeah, but not quite. We need to be careful. Take, for instance, Ecclesiastes, which is Solomon's thoughts on various topics. Do we actually agree that, because he said it and it's in the Bible, life is actually pure vanity? Or do we admit that this was his honest view and not necessarily Absolute Truth? One of the big ones is the Book of Proverbs. These are ... proverbs. How many times have I seen Christians take them as Absolute Truth? They aren't intended to be!

There are things that are generally true, but not absolutely true. You can find some of them on bumper stickers. "Treat her like a thoroughbred and she won't be a nag" one sticker said. Yeah, okay ... perhaps. It is true that it is a good idea to treat your wife well. It is true that your best chances of having a happy marriage is to treat your spouse well. But it is not a promise from God. I know husbands who loved their wives with excellence and ended up divorced. I know husbands who abuse their wives and still retain a wife who loves them to the end. Or take another truism we hold dear. "If you want to get a good job in life, you need to go to college." Likely true ... but we know it isn't always the case. There are homeless people with degrees and there are people making good money at complicated jobs without a college education. There are exceptions to these things. They are not absolute.

One such truism is the statement in Proverbs, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). True ... mostly. But I have seen parents at both ends that suffer horribly from this concept. I know some who came to Christ when their kids were in high school or college. What is the chance now that, having messed it all up totally, their kids will go the way they should? And I have known excellent parents who taught their kids to be what they were supposed to be, only to have them stray later in life. What guilt these parents can carry! Clearly if they stray it is because you failed to train them the way they should go. Not true!! Proverbs are proverbial. They are truisms. They are general truths. They are not absolute truths. The nature of a proverb is that there can be exceptions; they are not designed to be promises from God, statements of absolute truth. Still, some Christians suffer from missing that point.

The Bible is full of all sorts of Absolute Truth. We do well to defend it and stand on it. The Bible also has what we call "wisdom", sage advice for living that is mostly true. We do well to recognize the truth of it without trying to defend the exceptions. It is the nature of wisdom. And it is a wise person who can tell the difference. Solomon's point in the Book of Proverbs is "develop wisdom". That would include knowing the difference between Absolute Truth and a truism. We should be careful with that.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I was listening to the radio the other day on the way home from work and came across a call-in show. The topic was "Who was your favorite teacher?" Okay. I gave it a mental shot. Funny thing -- I couldn't come up with a name. It wasn't that I didn't remember my teachers. I did. It wasn't that I had lousy teachers. I didn't. It wasn't that I didn't like school. School was fine. It seems that I had a lot of good teachers, and picking a favorite was too hard to do.

It was a moment to reflect, a moment to be grateful. In this world where "dysfunctional" is considered the norm, I had a pretty good childhood, a pretty good life. I have three siblings and I get along with all three. All are married, and I get along just fine with their spouses. I have two living parents -- only two ... no "step" parents -- and I have a wonderful relationship with them. I have a good wife who makes me happy every day. I had it good, and I still do.

My parents taught me when I was growing up without tormenting me. They held a high standard and made sure I met it. They required obedience and loved me regardless. I got a spanking or two, always deserved, but not so many that I need more than two hands to count them. I learned basic necessities like spelling and arithmetic. I learned absolute necessities, being rooted and grounded in the Word. It was a good childhood.

Oh, sure, there have been ups and downs. I had my rebellious period. That served to wake me up to my own stupidity. I've had some serious blows in life, some that knocked me down, but none that knocked me out. There have been stresses and strains ... but it is my sincere suspicion that mine pale in comparison to most other people. All in all, it has been a good life.

We don't look back too often. Life's pressures, past hurts, difficulties, tribulations, just everyday living seem to get in the way. But it's worth it sometimes for me. I get a chance to say, "Thank you" to a Father who looked out for me at every turn, even when I was a prodigal son. He gifted me with wonderful parents, a great set of siblings, an excellent wife, and great children. It serves us well, occasionally, to look back and trace the hand of God in our lives. It teaches us, in the hubbub of life, to be grateful more often than we naturally tend to be.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The "Wise" Leading the Blind

"Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools ..." (Rom. 1:22)

What an indictment of the human race! According to Paul, "What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). Human beings have an innate recognition of God. Simple logic dictates this. Human beings around the world are fundamentally religious, regardless of their culture or circumstances. Atheists are made, not born. Nonetheless, the human race as a whole and Americans in particular have decided to be "wiser" than that. "Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rom. 1:21).

A prime example of the really "wise" today is Dr. Peter Singer, a professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. Dr. Singer suggests, in his advanced "wisdom", that there is no reason to defend children in the womb because they aren't people yet. But Dr. Singer takes it further. He holds that there is no reason to protect disabled children either because they aren't human either. It would, in his estimation, be perfectly moral to use these children for experimentation. But "human" isn't really significant to Dr. Singer; he holds that people are no better than other animals, and to suggest they are is simply speciesism.

Now, the "less wise" of our society would mostly reject the "wise" doctor's views. Oddly, they do so at their own peril. You see, while they would suggest that we need to defend children and that people are more valuable than animals, they do so with a complete inconsistency of their own position. Our society has decided that humans are evolved, not made, and that God is irrelevant to the discussion. If He exists at all, He has no place in matters of law, politics, morality, or the public exchange of ideas. So humans are simply some steps beyond lower animals which are merely some steps beyond bugs which are just some steps beyond amoeba. Dr. Singer says that animals and humans are of equal worth, and that is consistent. Society cries, "No! People are more valuable," ignoring completely that they have no basis for such a claim. Instead, the rule of Evolution is "the survival of the fittest." Now, our society has laws in place that protect children and the elderly. We have Child Protective Services and the Disability Act and rules against elderly abuse because we believe that the role of humans in general and government in particular is to protect the "less fit." So we claim to toss out God and then act as if there is one. We hold that humans are evolved animals but pass laws to treat them as if they're something more. We make rules to protect them against ... the primary rule of our origins. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools ..."

On 60 Minutes last Sunday, Joel Osteen talked up his new book, Become a Better You. The reporter who interviewed him, Byron Pitts, had some interesting questions.
"You said 'I like to see myself as a life coach, a motivator to help them experience the life of God that God has for them. People don’t like to be beat down and told 'You’ve done wrong.' What do you mean?" Pitts asks.

"Well, I think that most people already know what they’re doing wrong. And for me to get in here and just beat ‘em down and talk down to ‘em, I just don’t think that inspires anybody to rise higher. But I want to motivate. I wanna motivate every person to leave here to be a better father, a better husband, to break addictions to come up higher in their walk with the Lord," Osteen says.
Joel, for all his good intentions, is mistaken when he says, "I think that most people already know what they’re doing wrong." He has ignored the accusation that "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). He missed the fact that the primary problem of natural man is the suppression of truth (Rom. 1:18). He has missed the point that God has surrendered Man to his own foolishness -- "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools ..." And if we follow Paul's logical progression of Romans 1, we find a series in which God "gave them up" (Rom. 1:24, 26). In other words, people do not know how sinful they are, and to fail to tell them the problem is to fail to offer them a real solution.

I think we're in trouble ... real trouble. Some years ago I taught on a Sunday evening on the passage in 2 Tim. 3 about "the last days" and the moral conditions of that time. As I was teaching it I realized that I wasn't just talking about our society; I was talking about many churches. If people have a tendency to suppress the truth, if they have a tendency to surrender God, believing they are wise, and become fools, if they suffer from a deceitful, wicked heart, and if God is capable of giving them up, then we are in the process of being given up. We have managed to qualify ourselves for that. The really scary part to me is this: Humans face judgment on the last day, but nations face temporal judgment. We know that final judgment for us doesn't occur until after we die, but no nation has that assurance. And if America and the church continues to profess to be wise while becoming more and more foolish, perhaps a Hillary is exactly what is needed for God to finish the job of terminating the good that was once a nation predicated on "In God we trust."

Friday, October 19, 2007

What is This Thing Called "church"?

I would really like some input here. It has been some years now that this has rolled around in my head, and I'm still unclear on the concept. Someone has to be able to clear it up for me.

The fundamental structure of most churches (building on the corner, not "Body of Christ" Church) is that it is led by a pastor, a single leader. There are variations on this theme. Some have "senior pastors" with subordinate pastors also on the list, but this still boils down to a single leader. I have known of one or two that had "co-pastors", two or more leaders, but it's still the same concept in that you have a pastor who leads the church. Some churches have elders that have some influence over pastors. Others have the pastor as part of the board -- generally leading it. Some don't have elders at all (ignoring, as I understand Scripture, the biblical model). Some have pastors who answer to a higher structure, organizations like the Southern Baptists or the Presbyterians or so many others. Still, to the congregation there is still a pastor at the head of the local church. Some pastors serve at the whim of the congregation. He is there as long as they tolerate him, and if he falls out of favor, he falls out of a job. Still, there is a singular person generally referred to as "pastor" who is at the top.

My question in all of this is ... why? As I look through Scripture, I don't find this at all. Turning the pages of my Bible, I find that the original "church", Israel, had multiple spiritual leaders. An entire tribe of Israel served in that capacity. Moving from the "pre-Christ" to the "after Christ" Church, we find plenty of stuff about it in the New Testament. One thing that appears to be lacking is the concept of "pastor" as we use it today. Or maybe you haven't noticed.

Pull out a concordance or a Bible search engine and look up "pastor" sometime. Hey, even if you don't find much there, try out a topical index. Here's what you'll likely find. The word "pastor" occurs -- get this -- exactly never in the New Testament. Okay, okay, that seems unfair. In truth, the word "pastors" occurs ... once. One time. Now, if the primary focus in American churches is the pastor, why is the concept so absent from the New Testament? Keep looking. Maybe it's under "clergy", that select group who goes to seminary, learns how to lead, studies Greek and Hebrew, then gets certified by a special group to pastor your churches. No? What's up with that? Why is it that the single most obvious member of every church on the face of the American landscape is so absolutely scarce in the pages of Scripture? Could it be that we've missed something ... or, just as bad, added something?

The word, "pastor," comes from the concept of "pasture" and refers primarily to shepherd. Oh, now wait! Here we go. Let's find "shepherd". Ah, there it is:
I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Hmmm. That doesn't quite work, does it? You see, it refers to "elders", not "pastors" or the like. It is a group of people, not a single person. Generally speaking, the term "elder" refers to a group of men that lead the church, never to a single individual. Sometimes it means "people who are older", and that may even be the case here (since it follows this with a reference to "young men" who should be subject to the "elders"). Still, it would be a bizarre church indeed that had one older man. No, it appears that Peter is here giving instructions that the more spiritually mature Christians exercise leadership over the local body. Indeed, the word he uses is "oversight" which is the same root word used in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 where Paul details the qualifications for a "bishop", an "overseer". Oh, my, it looks like we're back to that concept. In fact, when Paul addresses his epistle to the church at Philippi, he references "all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons" (Phil. 1:1). (Odd ... he doesn't reference a pastor.) It would appear from this and many other references that the local church is constructed of believers and directed by a group of men who are "overseers" or "elders" (who are "apt to teach" -- 1 Tim. 3:2) and deacons. Apparently the elders or overseers are the spiritual leaders while the deacons carry out the practical functions of ministry.

So, here I am left wondering why it is that this is not what we see in churches today. Why is there a single pastor who preaches every week rather than a small group of mature Christian men? Why is the focus on one man rather than a group of leaders? Why do we have such an emphasis on a thing we can refer to as "clergy" where no such thing seems to exist in the New Testament? In other words, why is our standard church not found anywhere in the pages of the New Testament or the New Testament version of church not found anywhere on the streets of American Christianity? What am I missing?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Feelings versus Facts

I wrote this back in 1991 to help me sort through my feelings and compare them through God's facts. I realize that we often operate on a faulty basis of feelings (which can lie) versus the truth. So I did this as an exercise ... you know ... transforming the mind. I thought, perhaps, it might be of some benefit to you

My Feelings

God’s Facts

1. Nobody loves me.

I am loved.

John 13:1; 14:21; 15:13;

Rom. 5:8; 8:35-39;

1 John 4:10, 16; 3:1;

Rev. 3:19

2. Why doesn’t anything good ever happen to me?

All things work together for good.

Rom. 8:28

3. I’m good for nothing.

I am highly valued by the highest being in the universe – God.

Rom. 3:24;

1 Cor. 7:23; 6:20;

1 Pet. 1:18-19

I am viewed as pure by God, a new creation.

Jer. 31:34; Psa 103:12;

Rom. 6:4-11; 2 Cor. 5:17-20;

Eph. 4:24; Heb. 8:12

4. Why couldn’t I be … (better looking, more athletic, taller, shorter, skinnier, smarter, etc.)?

I was personally designed by God. This includes my physical characteristics, my parentage, and my circumstances.

Job 10:10-11;

Psa. 139:13-16; 119:73

5. He/she made me angry (any feeling that is admittedly wrong).

Each of us is responsible for our own responses.

James 1:14

6. I don’t have any skills (abilities to contribute to my world).

To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

1 Cor. 12:7, 16, 22, 23

7. I’m a loser, a failure.

I am a conqueror.

Rom. 8:37

I have the power for all things I must do.

Phil. 4:13

Now, keep in mind, for this to be most effective for you, you will have to do the work yourself. You will have to fill in the "My Feelings" column with your own feelings and the "God's Facts" column with the truth about what you're feeling. Maybe, just maybe, you will find that it is helpful for you as it was for me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


No, I didn't misspell that title. Let me explain.

Yesterday I wrote on the third-party concept. This is a further explanation on the same idea.

Few people deny that the morality of America today compared to the morality of America in the 1950's is much more ... relaxed. What was considered "common decency" in the '50's is outrageously narrow-minded today, and what was considered morally outrageous back then is considered commonplace today. In some cases people might even argue that the evolution of American morality is a good thing, but no one can rationally argue that it didn't happen. How did we get here from there?

The change from then (and even before) to now was not a sudden change. It was an evolution. It was progressive. The morality of the '50's was not the same as the morality of the '60's, and the morality of the '70's was not the same as the morality of the '80's. It was a process. A level of virtue held in the 50's was released in the 60's. Things that were "evil" became "tolerable", then "normal" and even "good". Values like family, children, and personal integrity shifted into the background, replaced with self-love and personal advancement. Women in the '50's, for instance, thought that being a wife and mother was a noble goal; today it is outlandish, backward, and repressive. Men in the '50's dreamt of a career, a family, and a family home; today staying at the same job with the same woman and the same house seems boring. Back then divorce was the exception; today it is the norm. Child molestors, rapists, murderers ... all sorts of evil has found its fuller expression today, released from yesterday's moral virtues.

So what is my point? The shift occurred gradually, accepting as tolerable something that was intolerable yesterday. It continues today. This is one of the reasons that I would have a serious problem voting for a Giuliani. Many see him as "the lesser of two evils." His views don't line up with ours, but better him than Hillary. To me, he represents a bigger threat than Hillary.

Many conservatives feel like the Republican party left them. They feel like their values have been ignored and their party has moved on. Putting a Giuliani in office would be another step away. Four years later, how many Republicans would be standing against abortion? A Giuliani-like candidate would be a shift away from the standards we value ... pushing a step further from the standards we value. And the longer we stay away from the standards we value, the more acceptable the new standard seems.

Is it better than Hillary? Maybe. We all know that Hillary's platform verges on socialism. There is no hint that she would be upholding conservative values. And therein lies the problem. Conservatives would vote for a Giuliani to exclude a Hillary, but no conservative would mistake Hillary for a conservative. So, with Hillary as the contrast, many would begin to think of the new Republican position -- the Giuliani candidate -- as "conservative" ... and normal. And the country steps away, again, from real values.

I see the same thing in many corners of life. Take music, for instance. Many conservatives recognize heavy metal or death metal or the like as "bad". We know that rap and hip hop represent "evil". But what about "easy listening"? What about the popular love songs? Well, they're singing about "spending the night together" and other values that Christians consider sin. Yet, they slip in as non-offensive because they are not death metal or rap. And the music culture teaches Christians that "love is a warm feeling" and "sex is between lovers, regardless of marital status." And because it's not that evil music, we swallow it.

Because it's not Hillary, but "one of our own", too many conservatives will buy into a Giuliani as something better than a Hillary. They won't see themselves take that baby step away from conservative values. They will think that they are limiting evil, while they step, ever so slightly, closer to accepting it. I cannot afford to vote that way. I'm not looking for a "perfect candidate". I'm not even trying to judge Giuliani's views. Nor am I trying to force my views on the Republican party. I just cannot, in good conscience, call a vote against an issue as large as protecting human life a "lesser evil". I cannot endorse someone who refuses to publicly stand for life, a basic function of government. I would not be able to stand there on Judgment Day and say, "Yes, I voted in favor of someone who won't protect life, but it wasn't as evil as the other." Indeed, if the Republican Party has left conservatives, where will we go? Maybe it is time to start a third party? At some point, at the very least, we need make some effort to stop the moral bleed.

After thought: During the 90's, when the Clintons were in office, there was outcry by the right against the President's lack of character. His defenders assured us that when it came to being a president, "Character doesn't count." The right didn't buy it. So why is it now, when Giuliani's character is in question regarding multiple divorces, etc., do we hear the same thing coming from the Republicans? Could it be that Clinton's decline has lowered the standards? That is what concerns me with a Giuliani.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Supporting a Third Party

Some Christian conservatives have laid down the gauntlet on the upcoming presidential election. If the choice comes down to pro-choice Clinton versus pro-choice Giuliani, they're going to bail out. Some are concerned that they'll just sit this one out. The more common suggestion is that they will support a third-party candidate.

The accusation -- from both conservatives and liberals -- is that these folks are "single-issue voters." I would have to confess that likely in many of these cases this is true. The issue of abortion is a deal breaker. And I am one that would have a hard time (read "nearly impossible") voting for a pro-choice candidate despite the alternatives. I am not, however, a single-issue voter. Let me explain.

Meet Tim. Tim is a fictitious wannabe candidate for the presidency. Tim is an excellent candidate. He supports everything you support. He is opposed to everything you oppose. What a guy! Oh, one little thing ... Tim is a drunk. Tim is, in fact, always drunk. He may do outrageous things when he is drunk, as drunks are prone to do. He may just pass out. But, hey! Let's not dwell on that! Tim is an excellent candidate!

Is he? If you chose not to vote for Tim because he was always drunk, would you be a "single-issue voter"? I don't think so. You see, Tim's drinking would have large ramifications. He couldn't be relied on to run a country. He doesn't have the self-control required. He would be signing or vetoing bills under the influence, and who knows what he'd do in that situation? He could easily be passed out when he is needed in a crisis. He would be an unacceptable representative of our country to the world. That kind of a problem provides many reasons not to vote for Tim.

The same is true in my mind with the topic of abortion. The primary role of government is to protect its people. If a person who is trying to occupy the highest office of the land refuses to protect the most vulnerable, the unborn, then on what basis would I think that he/she would do the job in other applications? If murdering babies is acceptable, what other acceptable atrocities would he/she allow? If the person that I am considering for office doesn't care about protecting, why would I think that he would care about other humans? And the questions just keep coming.

Maybe I am a single-issue voter. I want to elect someone to the presidency who will do the job. Someone who doesn't care about doing the job at the outset is not someone that I think I should vote for. Perhaps it's a single issue, but it's not as small as "the abortion issue". It's a matter of doing the job that government is supposed to do.

Monday, October 15, 2007

End of the World

It's the end of the world as we know it. WorldNetDaily informs us that "'Mom and Dad' as well as 'husband and wife' have been banned from California schools under a bill signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who with his signature also ordered public schools to allow boys to use girls restrooms and locker rooms, and vice versa, if they choose." This is really, really bad.

So I took a look. I read SB 777. How odd! I don't find a single phrase in there that bans the use of the terms "mom and dad" or "husband and wife". I don't find a single suggestion that allows boys to use girls restrooms and locker rooms. Not a single word. So now I have to dig deeper. What is it in this bill that is so offensive to WorldNetDaily that they feel they need to lie about it? What is it that is so nefarious that it can ban things without mentioning them and support things without a word?

The bill is an anti-discrimination bill. Here is the introduction to the bill:
Existing law states that it is the policy of the state to afford equal rights and opportunities to all persons in the public or private elementary and secondary schools and postsecondary educational institutions of the state regardless of their sex, ethnic group identification, race, national origin, religion, or mental or physical disability and prohibits a person from being subjected to discrimination on those bases.

Existing law prohibits a teacher from giving instruction, and a school district from sponsoring any activity, that reflects adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin, or ancestry.

Existing law prohibits the State Board of Education and the governing board of a school district from adopting for use in the public schools any instructional materials that reflect adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin, or ancestry.

This bill would revise the list of prohibited bases of discrimination and the kinds of prohibited instruction, activities, and instructional materials and instead, would refer to disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic contained in the definition of hate crimes that is contained in the Penal Code. The bill would define disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation for this purpose.
One important note. At the end of the introduction, the bill lists a variety of characteristics such as how it will pass (majority vote), if there is financial impact, and what is mandated in terms of local programs. According to the introduction, "State-mandated local program: no." In other words, this is not a mandate; it is a prohibition.

So, what is it that has people's knickers in a twist? The state law already prohibits discrimination in school on the basis of "sex, ethnic group identification, race, national origin, religion, or mental or physical disability." SB 777 doesn't change that. I cannot imagine a Christian suggesting it should. "By all means we need to discriminate on the basis of physical disability (or race or ...)." No, I don't see that. So what is SB 777 changing? "This bill would revise the list of prohibited bases of discrimination and the kinds of prohibited instruction, activities, and instructional materials and instead, would refer to disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic contained in the definition of hate crimes that is contained in the Penal Code." This bill changes the existing law by adding "sexual orientation" to the existing list. It is simply banning the schools from "instruction, activities, and instructional materials" that discriminate on a basis that is contrary to the existing penal code.

It is true that the bill, in its definitions, extends protection to "gender" which "includes a person's gender identity and gender related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person's assigned sex at birth." In other words, it protects transgender and cross-dressing folks. Would the Christian suggest, "No! They must be discriminated against! They must be banned, beaten, singled out and thrashed!!"? Sadly, I suppose there are those who classify themselves as Christians who would say, "Yes!", but it's not Christian. The Bible recognizes a split between Christianity and government. It also recognizes that, while we are indeed to recognize and avoid sin in the world, it is not our job to judge the world. We are to judge within the Church, but we are to expect the world to be sinful. (See, for instance, 1 Cor. 5: 9-13.) It's not our job to force the world to act according to biblical standards.

Still, nothing in the bill approaches the outlandish accusations like those from WorldNetDaily. Nothing removes "Mom and Dad", "husband and wife", or anything like it. These are equally protected. Teachers may not teach against certain practices, it's true, but I'd much rather that our public school teachers avoided topics like that entirely rather than give their skewed moral perspectives, so I'm in favor of not teaching about it. Nothing in the bill mandates letting boys use girls' restrooms or the like. That's a stretch, a reach, a leap of logic not included in the bill. (Let a school try it and see how long it lasts.)

We live in trying times. Our world is in serious moral decline. There is no doubt. We've surrendered our influence on the nation's morality by abdicating our role as the light of the world, living Christ in front of them. This is all true. But, please, let's not overreacted and create a scene where none is required. Recognize that certain groups will (from both sides) will likely skew the information you get and be ready for it (on both sides). Recognize that it is not our job to make the world more "Christian" because we can't. Pray for those in authority (because we are commanded to do so). Live a life that reflects Christ (because we are commanded to do so). Vote your conscience (because it makes sense). But let's avoid making ourselves look any more foolish than we have to. The Gospel is foolishness enough, isn't it?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Missed Messages

We are commanded "Preach the gospel." Now, in our effort to "reach the world for Christ," a subtle but serious modification to the command, we have attempted to make people feel better. One well-known preacher has even suggested that it is wrong to say that people are sinners -- they just suffer from poor self-esteem. Less radical, others have simply decided to exclude the concept from their preaching. Make it "friendly." Make it "up beat." Make it "positive." Here is a extremely limited smattering of verses on a biblical topic:
O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! (Psa. 38:1).

Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it (Isa. 13:9).

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:36).

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18).

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom. 2:5).

For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury (Rom. 2:8).

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19).

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (Eph. 5:6).

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.", 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 3:9-18).

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
Can you pick out a trend?

Without the bad news, good news is meaningless. Only with the bad news firmly in view can you begin to pick out the good news of statements like this:
What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory -- even us whom He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Rom. 9:22-24)
Remove God's intent to demonstrate His wrath, and you remove "the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy."

Suddenly, the "positive, uplifting" message sans sin isn't so positive or uplifting. Let's "preach the word" rather than "reach the world for Christ."

On Sundays I try to post something that brings praise to God. I can think of nothing that causes me to love Him and glorify Him more than realizing the depths of my sin, the wrath that I've earned, and the vast expanse of the mercy and grace that He has shown me instead. That is the Gospel ... "to the praise of His glorious grace" (Eph. 1:6).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Reach the World for Christ

It is said that anger is due to the perception that my rights have been blocked and frustration is due to the perception that my goals have been blocked. Generally speaking, frustration is caused when I set a goal for myself that is not valid. Now, this concept is pretty sneaky because our goals can appear to be really good. Take, for instance, the wife who sets a goal to make her husband happy. Now, what could be better than that? I mean, that's right ... isn't it? Unfortunately, it's a misguided goal. No person can make another person feel anything. You can set up situations that make it more likely. You can even be successful at these attempts much of the time. However, no person can make another person feel anything, so if her goal is to make her husband happy and his work has upset him, she has failed at her goal and will be frustrated. The frustration is due to a faulty goal.

We often make faulty goals out of lofty ideas. One that I see all the time in Christian circles is this one: Reach the world for Christ. "Faulty goal? What do you mean?? Isn't that a command?!" Well, many people think of it as the command we've been given, but it is slightly different and, as such, prone to error. Consider the actual command:
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).
In the two statements, "Preach the gospel" and "Reach the world for Christ", there is a subtle but significant difference. The difference is what I will call the anchor point. In the actual command, the anchor point is "the gospel". There is nothing in that command that takes into account "the world". The goal is straightforward and unequivocal: "Preach the gospel." There is nothing about the environment in which it occurs. There is nothing about the form of the message or the culture in which it is preached. There is nothing about effectiveness. The anchor point of this command is the gospel. The anchor point of the synonym (which isn't actually synonymous) is "the world". There is a suggestion of "the gospel", but it is only implicit, not explicit. The goal of the second phrase is to be effective, not to preach the gospel. The goal, in fact, is to take on the duty that only God can take -- changing hearts.

It is this misguided goal that causes frustration and produces error. Despite the fact that it sounds right, it tends to head us in wrong directions. "Preach the gospel" allows us to modify the presentation to present it to the given audience, but it doesn't allow us to modify the gospel because the gospel is the anchor point. Missionaries do this when they go to places that the gospel hasn't been preached, learn a new language, and preach the gospel in that new language. This takes into account the audience without modifying the gospel. This is the command. But "reach the world" takes into account effectiveness. If we are "preaching the gospel" and no one seems to be listening, maybe it's time to modify the message. People don't like to hear about sin; don't preach about sin. People don't like to hear about exclusivity; don't touch on exclusivity. People don't like to hear about conflict; don't preach on conflict. Never mind that the gospel is all about the problem of sin, the fact that Jesus is the only way, and that only in a relationship with Christ can we find resolution to our conflict with God. So, to "reach the world", we modify the gospel. The world will likely respond more warmly ... but to what? We've denied them the gospel in favor of "reaching" them.

We are commanded to preach the gospel. Paul told Timothy, "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2 Tim. 4:2). In season and out of season. With reproof, rebuke, and exhortation. We are commanded to preach. Jesus commanded His disciples (which, by extension, would include us), "Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt 28:19-20).

The goal of reaching the world for Christ sounds right. It sounds the same as "preach the gospel" without the jargon. It sounds like what we're commanded to do. It is, however, a goal premised on a false ground that will almost certainly produce frustration and has already produced "another gospel". We are not commanded to "reach" anyone. We are commanded to preach the gospel. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to reach people. We need to make our message clear. We need to remove unnecessary obstructions in our message. But we dare not change our message. Paul calls that "anathema" -- a curse.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Outrageous Good Will

Outspoken conservative Ann Coulter has done it again. She has upset America by her statements. Color me surprised. This time she told a Jewish Donny Deutsch that she thought everyone should become Christians ... even Jews. "That is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews," she told the host.

Now, I am not a proponent of Ann Coulter. And generally I won't take on individuals in my comments. What I want to do for just a moment, then, is to examine the idea that has so inflamed the world. Should everyone become Christians? Or, perhaps more accurately, should Christians think everyone should become Christians?

Frankly I'm baffled at the response. There isn't a person alive who does not believe that what they believe is right. Even the loon on the street corner who is quite sure that little green men are falling from the sky to take over the world is convinced that he is right. No one should be surprised that a person who believes something believes it is right. If you didn't believe it was correct, you wouldn't believe it.

So, what is "Christian"? And why would anyone suggest that everyone should be one? "Christian" is a simple, basic premise. The idea is that we are sinners who have earned Hell and only through accepting Christ's sacrifice on our behalf can we have a relationship with God and avoid eternal damnation. Simple. Straightforward. So Ann Coulter has made this startling suggestion: Everyone should accept Christ and avoid eternal damnation.

Why is this so upsetting? If Deutsch had asked, "Do you think everyone should have enough to eat?" and she had answered, "Yes, I think everyone -- even Jews -- should have enough to eat," no one would have batted an eye. Now she has suggested that she would like everyone to avoid Hell, and that's outrageous.

It has been said that we are living in a "post-Christian" America. The suggestion is that everyone (essentially) has heard the Gospel. It's not new stuff. I have to wonder. If people are outraged because Christians think that everyone should have eternal life, a living relationship with God, and forgiveness for their sins, people apparently haven't heard or understood the Gospel.

Perhaps that's the case. I suspect that, to some extent, the Gospel has been misrepresented in many cases. There are pastors of churches teaching that Christianity is being nice to people and accepting everyone. That's nice ... but it's not Christianity -- and it's not the Gospel. I also suspect that the more obvious problem is that people have heard the Gospel and rejected it. They deny the premise that we're all sinners and deny the claim that we need to come to Christ in faith. I understand that. But it doesn't explain the outrage when an Ann Coulter expresses a wish for the good will of all humans. If the Dali Lama came to me and told me, "I want all people to have peace; they can achieve that through Buddhism," I would say, "Hello, Dali, and thank you for your well wishes. I think your solution is faulty, but I appreciate the sentiment." I would disagree with his answer, but I wouldn't be outraged at his intentions.

So, I'm baffled at the response. Christians believe that those who reject Christ are bound for Hell. No person with any concern for their fellow human beings would say, "You're headed for disaster, but, hey, go right ahead." Any concerned person would do something to encourage others to avoid disaster. Still, if we suggest that we'd be happy if everyone avoided the ultimate disaster of eternal damnation, people are angry. Are we not expressing it correctly? Or is there something more at work here?

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Doug Wilson has written a particularly good piece on postmodernism and conservative response entitled Three Winter Quilts. I enjoyed it for the writing alone, but the message was a good one as well. In the piece, Doug talks about the post 50's/pre-80's change in Evangelical mores that allowed them to take on the liberal satirist with their own sharp satire. Prior to that change, conservative Christianity wouldn't allow them to be sharp with anyone at all. But by the time the 80's had rolled around, conservatives -- both Christian and secular -- had picked up the weapons of sarcasm, satire, and sharpened wit and were holding their own against the acerbic assaults of liberalism. Wilson concludes that the response of the conservative satirist is much more potent because he loves what he defends and has truth on his side.

I enjoyed the piece, but it got me to thinking. What about that decline in mores?

When I was a kid, Mom and Dad took us to the movies on occasion and we were allowed to play cards (no, not gamble, but "Go fish" was okay). However, if Grandma came over, the cards had to be out of sight. You see, everyone knew that Christians don't play cards, go to movies, or dance. Everyone, that is, except my parents, I guess. You see the shift in generational mores here. Was it good? Well, of course, I would think it was. I don't find "Thou shalt not play cards" in my Bible. And while Jesus never did visit a drive-in theater in His day, I can't really imagine that He would find it objectionable ... to a point. In other words, I suspect that the shift in the two generational mores here was a supportable shift from unnecessary rules to a more biblical perspective.

This concept still continues, however, and the question has to remain: Is it good? My parents taught me that rock and roll was evil. My mom has finally acquiesced to "No, I just don't like it at all" while my dad still suspects it is evil, but I don't think that the rythm of a particular song defines its moral character. That's a shift in moral perspective. Is it good? I like to think so.

Other areas are also in flux. Every Christian used to know that smoking was a sin. It not only was evil; it made you smell like you came from Hell itself. What further proof did you need???!! Well, that's in question now. And clearly Christians should never touch alcohol, but modern conservative Christians aren't convinced. There are words used in Doug Wilson's piece that would never have passed my lips as a young Christian that are now passé in today's conversations. (Actually, Doug has trouble with the word as well, referring to it as "the other part of the compound word".)

It begs the question. How much of this shift is a cultural shift that simply aligns current Christianity with biblical Christianity, and how much is a dip into worldly standards? Aligning with biblical Christianity is a good thing; aligning with the world is bad. Which is it?

We've introduced rock and roll into church services as "worship music". Is that a good thing? I don't mean "good thing" in the sense that "people like it". Of course they like it. But is rock and roll music ... worshipful? Is God pleased? Some pastors have loosened their lips, so to speak, allowing mild expletives into their sermons. Does this help get the gospel across, or is it a violation of Ephesians 4:29 and the like? (Note to the more conservative reader: the biblical reference to "cursing" or "swearing" is not the same as our use of the term. Be careful about trying to apply that concept to this one.) What was considered acceptable to the liberals has now become acceptable to the conservatives, and the realm of unacceptable continues to dip lower and lower. Some of that is an adjustment from conventional Christianity to biblical Christianity, but I'm certain that a good portion of it is a realignment from Christianity to worldliness.

I am in favor of aligning our mores with the biblical perspective. At times that can be extremely difficult. It violates the cultural norms. It can be difficult to figure out exactly what is meant by "unwholesome words" in Eph. 4:29. Does 1 Cor. 6:19 forbid smoking or is that taking it out of context? Exactly what is "worship music"? We need to consider all these and align our thinking with the truth of Scripture, even if that means tossing out treasured, long-held positions. On the other hand, we must not -- we dare not -- allow a decay from biblical morality to cultural morality without even thinking about it. The problem, of course, is that such a decay is natural and almost imperceptible. It is deadly, but it is often hard to recognize.

I enjoyed Doug's analysis of the new conservative ability defend truth with edgy humor. It just raises a flag in my head to be careful about allowing shifts in what we allow that don't align with what God allows, since He, not our culture, is the one whose opinion matters.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wacky Wednesday

One of our local Christian radio stations has a segment on Wednesdays called "Wacky Wednesdays." The host will argue for an idea with which he actually disagrees. The point is to help Christians learn to argue for the truth. It is sometimes an interesting exercise, so I thought I'd try one here. I will argue for something here that I do not believe. Your job, dear reader, is to analyze my arguments, figure out what's wrong, and uphold the truth.

First, a basic position to consider: When Jesus died on the cross, He said, "It is finished." He didn't say, "It is begun." He didn't say, "It is potentially finished." He said it was finished. Whatever Jesus accomplished by His death on the cross He actually accomplished. It wasn't a beginning or a potential accomplishment. It was a finished accomplishment. So the question becomes, "What did Jesus actually accomplish on the cross?"

The best place to answer this type of question, of course, is from Scripture. So here are some answers from the Bible:
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. ... But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God (Heb 10:10, 12).
It would appear that the purpose of the cross was "the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all," the offer of "a single sacrifice for sins." Note that the language of Hebrews here confirms Jesus's words on the cross: "Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins." The purpose of the cross, then, was atonement, the offering of a substitutionary sacrifice on the behalf of others to satisfy God's justice.

How far does "It is finished" extend? First, start with God's apparent intentions:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3-4).

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Next consider the number of times the Bible uses the word "world" when discussing this topic.
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:16-17).

If anyone hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world (John 12:47).

"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me (John 17:20-21).

If their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead (Rom. 11:15)?

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14).
Finally, consider how many times the authors of Scripture use the word "all" in this context:
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men (Rom. 5:18).

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Tim. 2:5-6).

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10).

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people (Titus 2:11).

He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself (Heb. 7:27).

He entered once for all into the holy places ... He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:12, 26).
So, here's the argument. Considering 1) that whatever Christ did on the cross was finished at the cross, 2) that it is God's will to save all, and 2) that the Bible repeatedly uses the words "world" and "all" to describe breadth of the effect of Christ's sacrifice, I think it is abundantly clear that everyone is already forgiven of all sin. There is no "unsaved", no "non-Christian", no pending salvation. If it is God's will that everyone gets saved and Christ came to save all and already accomplished ("finished") it on the cross, there is no further need for anything on our part. Salvation is universal!

Now, as I said, this is not what I believe. That means that I thoroughly believe that there are answers to this. I'm simply offering you the opportunity to think it through. Note, by the way, a technique I employed. I have inundated you with verses. The hope is that if I give you an overload of biblical support, you will be forced to surrender. Don't do it. Think it through.

One other note before I leave you to your pondering. In arguing against using these passages for Universalism, you will be arguing in favor of Limited Atonement. Enjoy!