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Monday, December 31, 2007

The Best of 2007

So, it seems appropriate, this being New Year's Eve, to have a quick review of what has made 2007 memorable. Let's see ...

My college son flew out this last January for part of his training, and I benefited from a free flight around the valley. It was good to spend time with the boy.

My wife and I enjoyed a wonderful trip with my parents in their motorhome in March. We traveled from California to Louisiana, visiting friends and family in Dallas and Alexandria. We spent time with cousins, old friends from California, my daughter and her family, lifelong family friends, and then off for several days with my grandfather and his wife. The chance to visit various folks is a privilege and a pleasure, but the chance to spend a couple of weeks with my parents is just a treat.

We managed to gather a houseful in May. My daughter was arriving with her husband and two boys. My son decided to take that particular weekend to come for a visit from Las Vegas. My brother and his wife happened to be traveling through the area that weekend and dropped in for dinner. It was a wonderful time to visit and catch up. It seems like there is never enough time to catch up with family.

The trip in March that included visiting with my grandfather was timely. It meant I had the chance to spend a little time with him just before he died in May. For the first time that I could recall, I made a second trip to Louisiana in the same year ... to bury him. He was 90 years old.

My son from Las Vegas moved to Washington, and then to our house in September. Working in the construction industry, he was running out of places to find employment and running up too many bills. Our house is the place of second chances. He's back on his feet, working at a job he enjoys making good money and paying off bills that had piled up.

Thanksgiving time was particularly pleasant. We got to visit with dear friends from when we lived in California. I got to have dinner with my two best friends in high school that I hadn't seen for more than 20 years. Thanksgiving Day was all about gathering with the dear folks in my wife's family, and the subsequent weekend was a gathering of my family. It was a wonderful week-long revelry in friendships and family.

During the year I've enjoyed reading several blogs that I wish to acknowledge for prodding me to think more about a wide variety of topics. Pastor Jon provides an ongoing Bible study right there at your finger tips. Jim Jordan's Moral Science Club has interesting, thoughtful topics and entries that are almost always of interest to me. Sure, there are the "greats" like Pyromaniacs, Desiring God Blog, and Dr. Mohler's Blog, but they won't be particularly grateful if I mention how much I have enjoyed them. It's the "smaller" ones who have so blessed me that deserve mention, like A Recovering Presbyterian or Backwoods Presbyterian. Then there are my friends who I don't really know, but appreciate anyway. Their blogs include Carry Your Candle, Family Blueprint, Refreshment in Refuge, and On the Wittenburg Trail.

I know ... I've missed a lot of you out there. I read a lot more, but these stand out in my memory. Thanks to all of you -- friends, family, and readers -- who have made this a memorable year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Why Forgiveness?

Most of us have never asked ourselves this question: "Why would/should God forgive us?" I know I haven't. I suppose we haven't asked because we already know the answer -- He loves us. I guess the answer is accurate, but I'm afraid that it's quite incomplete and, in fact, largely misleading. The sense of that answer is, "Why wouldn't He forgive us? He loves us!" The natural conclusion in that sense is "We are lovable." And that would be the wrong conclusion.

The Bible offers a radically different reason for God offering salvation to anyone. In fact, the answer is repeated in multiple places. In Psalm 25, David pleads for pardon for his iniquity:
For Your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my iniquity, for it is great (Psa. 25:11).
The "it" in that sentence refers to "my iniquity". David says, "My iniquity is great!" His claim is that he is guilty of massive sin and in desperate need of pardon, without which he has no hope. On what basis does David pray for that pardon? Because God loves him? No. Because he's so lovable? No, indeed. His iniquity is against God, making him closer to God's enemy than His friend. On what basis, then, does David hope for pardon? "For Your name's sake," is the only answer. David's hope for pardon is not based on anything at all about David or anything at all about God's affection for David. It is based solely on the glory that doing so will bring to God.

We see the same concept offered in Exodus when God threatened to destroy Israel for worshiping the golden calf. In Exodus 32, the people got tired of waiting for Moses to return from Mt. Sinai, so they erected an idol. God told Moses, "Let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation" (Exo. 32:10). Moses didn't appeal to God's mercy. He didn't appeal to Israel's standing as the people of God. He didn't appeal to God's love. He appealed to God's good name.
"Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people" (Exo. 32:12).
Moses's plea was for God's good name not to be damaged. It was the right response and God chose not to destroy Israel.

The same concept is found in Daniel's prayer in Daniel 9. Daniel's prayer is a repeated claim that Israel -- including himself -- had sinned and was worthy of all the punishment God had given them. His only claim for himself and his people was for "open shame" (Dan. 9:8). No mention of how God should forgive His people because they are His people. No call for mercy based on their worth. Daniel's prayer is full of "we're only getting what we deserve" (e.g., Dan. 9:13). Instead, Daniel begs for God's forgiveness based on God's good name.
"O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name" (Dan. 9:19).
There it is again. The prayer is that God would show mercy and forgive not on the basis of those who are being forgiven, but on the basis of His own name's sake. For His own glory, God can forgive.

In Eph. 1:3-14, Paul gives a partial list of "every spiritual blessing" that we have received in Christ. These blessings include being chosen (Eph. 1:4), being redeemed (Eph. 1:7), being given knowledge of His will (Eph. 1:9), an inheritance (Eph. 1:11), and the seal of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). Paul repeatedly explains the reason for all of these blessings: "to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).

This Sunday, as you are worshiping God and enjoying the salvation that is ours, remember ... it's not about you. It's not because God loves you; it's because of God's glory. The fact that He loves you is to His glory alone. Our forgiveness is for His glory. The grace and mercy He gives us is for His name's sake. If He wasn't interested in magnifying His own glory, we would be without hope because our position as "God's people" or the fact that God loves us would be insufficient to provide any reason for our redemption. It is all "to the praise of His glory."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Unnecessary Stereotyping

Pick an example, any example. Find any sort of value statement in the media today about Christians versus the homosexual community, and I suspect you will always find it to be the same message. People who are opposed to "gay rights" are lunatics. Sane people, heterosexual and homosexual alike, favor "gay rights" and are just nicer people than anyone who is opposed to "gay rights".

One big problem, you see, is that there is a lunatic fringe out there that feeds the stereotype. They are truly the homophobic, narrow-minded, hateful people that are depicted in the examples. They are mean-spirited, illogical folks who often rally under the banner of "Christianity" while they ignore the teachings of Christ about how to treat people that they perceive to be their enemies and that the hallmark of Christians is love, not some angry morality movement. They are the "Fred Phelps" types that are just as embarrassing and offensive to true Christians as they are offensive to everyone else.

The other problem is that too many Christians don't really think through the problem. They see that the Bible clearly holds out homosexual behavior as sin (along with a whole lot of other stuff, don't forget), but they don't think about what the proper response to that sin would be nor even why they would respond at all. The only responses they are offered is the wrong one of the lunatic fringe or the wrong one of the "just accept gay behavior as normal" side.

The problem is actually echoed in just about every corner of Christian morality. We have a fairly decent grasp on "good" and "bad", a fairly common idea about what is moral and what isn't, but we don't think much about why this or that is immoral or how we should react.

There are reasons for Christian morality beyond simply "God said it." That's sufficient for us, I suppose, but it's not the only answer. God is the Creator. He knows what makes the human being work well and what makes the human being work poorly. He knows that sexual sin, for instance, causes all sorts of problems that aren't exactly related to morality at all (see, for instance, 1 Cor. 6:16 -- "Do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her?" That is a problem.) All of the moral law has ramifications to the human being that are not merely because "it's wrong." It's wrong ... sure ... but it's also bad for us. A loving God is attempting to help us operate better by telling us, "Don't do that; it will hurt you." All of that is apart from the damage it does to the glory of God, which we fall short of when we sin and, when we do, bear unspeakable debt to God. That's bad.

If, then, homosexual behavior isn't merely immoral but bad for them, wouldn't it change our reaction? Wouldn't it change how we respond to people in sin, regardless of what the sin is? It should. Revulsion is not the proper response. Outrage is not the proper response. The proper response is loving concern.

Of course, if the person in question is not a believer, then their immorality, whatever form it takes, isn't the big problem, and trying to make them more moral is irrelevant. They don't need to be better people. God isn't in the business of making bad people into good people. They need new life. They need a relationship with Christ. Trying to make them "good" isn't it. They need the gospel.

If the person in question is a believer, we have specific instructions on how we should react.
Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:1-2).
If you can figure out how "demonstrate and shout angry epithets at them" fits in with "restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness", you're a better person than I am. If that qualifies as "bear one another's burdens", please don't offer to bear my burdens with me.

We live in a world that hates Christ. So be it. We will be misrepresented by those people. So be it. But somewhere some of us need to stand up and demonstrate love instead of hatred for the homosexual. We need to be concerned about the damage, cautious about their direction, distressed about the anguish they face if they continue, and troubled for their well-being. "Outraged about their immorality" isn't going to assist in any of this. We can't make the world represent us properly, but surely we can work at speaking the truth in love ourselves, can't we?

Friday, December 28, 2007

How Do We Know?

Phil Johnson over at Pyromaniacs has done it again ... another outstanding perspective. The question he tackles is that of epistemology. Epistemology is that area of philosophy that asks the question, "How do we know what we know?" Coming to any conclusions, of course, seems circular, but let's leave that alone.

The two most recent answers to "How do we know what we know?" are Modernism and Post-Modernism. Modernism is held primarily as "Classical Foundationalism". It was seen clearly in Descartes's "I think, therefore I am." The argument of Modernism is that we can know certain self-evident things from which we can then argue rationally to other things. Descartes argued from "if I think, I must be" to "God exists" and "Christianity is true." Nice ... but "Classical Foundationalism". In other words, in the simplest of terms, you can know things by figuring them out. Post-modernism's answer to "How do we know what we know?" is ... "You can't." Post-modernism is first and foremost an enemy of certainty. It views uncertainty as humility and wisdom, a fundamental virtue. Anyone who is certain is foolish and arrogant. What's the matter with you guys? What makes you think you're so smart?

When a reader asked Phil Johnson, "Are you a Classical Foundationalist?", Phil answered, "No!" "Oh," one might be tempted to think, "then you're a post-modernist!" To which Phil would not merely answer, but shout, "No!!" Coming from Phil, it sounds odd, but Phil answers the basic epistemological question, "How can man know what he knows?" first with a denial. "I reject every worldview and/or epistemology that begins with man as a starting point."

Read the post. It's quite good. Phil's position is that man's knowledge comes not from rational thinking or even uncertainty, but from God. He quotes the Bible, of all things, where the wisest man in history writes, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1:7). Funny ... I would guess that most of us were quite aware that "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Psa. 111:10; Prov. 9:10), but many of us didn't quite catch that it was also the beginning of knowledge. Paul writes that God makes certain truths are innate to human beings (Rom. 1:19-20). More importantly, since God created this universe and God created it for His own purposes to His own glory, it only makes sense that knowledge -- epistemology -- must start with Him.

Phil's post is quite good. It serves also as a reminder that we need to constantly check ourselves for false thinking. Are we going to buy into the lie that uncertainty is humility when the Bible says that God provides both knowledge and wisdom? Are we going to buy into the lie that anything of any value originates with Man? We are so often caught up by this oh so prevalent line of thinking that starts with "I" and it is most often wrong. You almost can't go wrong if you start your thinking with "God" and work from there.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lost Art

Okay, I'm going to throw out a phrase here and let's see if anyone knows what it means. The phrase is "customer service". Yeah, I know, most of you are scratching your head. "What in the world could that possibly mean?" Some of the older folks might know. They remember when there was a thing called "service stations" where someone actually came out, pumped your gas, checked your oil and tire pressure, and took care of the customer. I know, I know, to the younger generation that sounds a bit like a pink unicorn -- pure fantasy -- but it did exist.

Customer service would be where a business would attempt to provide service to their customers. Now, I'm sure you've seen a sign like that at a variety of stores. "Customer Service" in these cases generally means "Come here and wait for an indeterminate amount of time while we jerk you around and deny any culpability for the problem you claim you are having with our product." In other places it is "Our promise to answer your questions or provide what you need ... that we don't actually intend to keep." Somehow it is rarely, "We really want to make our customers as happy as they can be."

I've had too many interactions with "customer service" in the last month. I've asked for information from companies so I can buy their product, and they've been only too glad to ... ignore me. I've emailed folks asking for help and despite the certain reply that "We will respond in the next 24 to 48 hours" I haven't heard back from them. It doesn't matter who it is. Banks, businesses, purveyors of electronics or software or any product you care to mention ... they're all seemingly lost on the meaning of the term, "customer service".

I have a theory. I theorize that if a company actually produced a good product and, if needed, actually serviced their customers, that company would be pretty rich pretty quick, being such a novelty and all. But I have a lot of theories, and some of them don't hold water. My other theory that counters my first theory is that people are so used to the term "customer service" meaning "Go away" that they might not even notice if it meant "Can we really be of help?" People can be funny that way.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Where's Duncan Hunter?

Why does it seem that Duncan Hunter is going nowhere?

Clearly the Democrats' offerings won't work for the conservatives and the Evangelicals in particular. Mitt Romney is not going to fly because he's a Mormon and Evangelicals don't like Mormons. Unfair? Perhaps. Irrational? Likely. But that doesn't change things. Mike Huckabee would seem like a natural for the Christians. He was, after all, a pastor at one time. He's likeable. He's rising in the polls. And yet ... you'll find a lot of Christians that, how shall I put it, dislike him intensely. I suppose it's a product of rising in the polls like he has, but he's the current target of anyone who isn't a Huckabee fan, including Thompson's folks, Romney's folks, and anyone else who is not a fan.(I gotta tell you, I thoroughly dislike this kind of politics. And when Christians engage in this kind of negativity and call it "politics", well, it's just embarrassing.) McCain is too moderate. Thompson is the choice of a very loud group, but he may have gotten into it too late to pull it off, and, frankly, where he stands on essential issues is unclear. Giuliani is viewed by some as the only possible Republican to beat Hillary, but to the conservatives he is beset by a string of broken marriages and takes that stand that it's perfectly okay for women to choose to kill their babies before they're born. Brownback favors Social Security numbers for illegal aliens in a conservative world where immigration is a major issue and holds unpopular views in things like CAFTA. Oh, and let's not forget Ron Paul. His following borders on the fanatical, but anyone who says, "I don't care if Iran has nukes" is a dangerous person to put in the White House.

So what is the gripe with Duncan Hunter? He favors an amendment to the Constitution that would protect the unborn. He wants to put judges in the courts that strictly interpret the law rather than legislating from the bench. He co-sponsored legislation that would prevent minors from crossing state lines to get an abortion in a sate that doesn't require parental notification. He opposes human cloning and federal support for stem cell research. He co-sponsored the Constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. He favors parents' rights in their children's education. On the First Amendment, he wants the government to step back rather than working hard to remove religion from every corner. On the Second Amendment, he recognizes that the right to bear arms isn't about hunting, but about our right to be safe. He is a typical supporter of Reaganomics, believing that giving us tax cuts will improve the economy. He supports a balanced budget and holds that our rights to private property are more important than the latest rulings on eminent domain. On the subject of illegal immigration, he is perhaps the most outspoken. He was partly responsible for getting the fences placed on California's border and extended into Arizona. Citizenship for illegal alien babies, the problems that Border Patrol agents face, and issues of employer verification are some of his concerns in the whole question.

In every test I've taken about who is closest to my views, Duncan Hunter seems to always come out on top. On the other hand, none of the polls seem to offer him any traction. What I can't figure out is why? What is it that is stopping Evangelicals and conservatives from jumping on his bandwagon? It seems like he's what we need. Where's the problem?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Christmas Story

Christmas. The term conjures up all sorts of things. Sparkling trees, shiny packages, singing, happiness -- all seem to be components of Christmas. In fact, Christmas has few indispensable elements.

First, there is the whole "Virgin Birth" thing. It's the start of the story, after all. Then there are angels who sing to shepherds (okay, the text doesn't actually say they sang) and tell them about the Savior. You have some wise men, some "kings", some magi who follow a star to find the King. These are all basic components of the story of Christmas without which it isn't a Christmas story.

Skeptics will question those basic components. It's not so surprising, is it? I mean, when the angel told Mary about the Virgin Birth, even she asked, "How shall this be?" (Luke 1:34). Still, it remains a fundamental claim in the story of Christ's birth that He was born of a virgin. "And, seriously, angels telling shepherds about Christ? Why shepherds? And angels? You have to be kidding!" Yet there is no doubt that the biblical account includes this part of the story. "Oh, and there is no way with this whole 'guys following the star' thing. How would such a thing occur? How would they 'follow a star' to an actual house? How does any of this make sense?" That's fine for skeptics, but it's still a basic component of the Christmas story, so we're leaving it in place.

To me there is one other basic component of the Christmas story that is too often missed. It is so fundamental that without it we wouldn't even bother having a Christmas story at all. This piece of the story is hinted at in Matt. 1:23 when the angel tells Joseph that Christ's birth fulfilled a prophecy: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us)" (Matt. 1:23). "God with us." If that doesn't shake up your thinking and stir your heart, you aren't paying attention. So let's try Paul's rendition of the Christmas story.
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).
I know ... that's not normally found in your Christmas pageants. Still, it is the Christmas story. It starts in the place that all Christmas stories must start -- with Christ "in the form of God". It starts, then, with God. It premises itself not on Man's great need or worth, but on the Son's amazing willingness to surrender His ultimate glory to clothe Himself as a man. It tells us the story not simply of a baby born to a virgin or of a Savior, Christ the Lord, or of a star that led wise men to seek Him. It tells instead of a Creator who made the virgin and the shepherds and the stars themselves Who surrendered that vast magnificence to take on human form.

"Oh," you might say, "I can see that, but it goes beyond the Christmas story, doesn't it? It includes His death on the cross."

It does, but the story of Christmas -- of God taking human form to be born -- is uniquely a story of death on the cross. You see, while we humans live life from birth to death, fending off death as long as we can, Christ was born to die. His perfect life was intrinsic to His purpose, but His purpose was that death on the cross. His sinless life made the cross meaningful, but it was the cross that was the ultimate aim of His human life. It isn't part, perhaps, of "the story of Christmas", but it is the point. The story requires that He be "God with us", that He live a sinless life, that He went willingly to the cross, and that He rose again. All of this was so that we might have life. All of this was, ultimately, so that "every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

I always enjoy the Nativity. I like to remember the Virgin Birth, the stories of angels and shepherds and wise men and all. "No room for them at the inn" is a good reminder. I like the story of Christmas. But if we are to be Christians -- Christ followers -- it is this mind that we need most to emulate. It is the One who laid aside self for the glory of God. And what a "self" He laid aside! And for what glory! This Christmas, remember: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Truth about Christmas

Look around the Internet sometime. You will find a plethora of explanations about the origins of Christmas traditions. Most of them are shouting warnings. "Beware!" they urge, "Christmas is pagan!" Now, Jesus said, "The truth shall set you free," and Paul told us to "Speak the truth in love," but I'm not entirely sure where all this "truth" is coming from or even why. So give it a shot. Look at some of our popular traditions and see if you can find out the truth.

Christmas trees are known to be of pagan origin. Ask anybody. Or are they? It appears to depend on the source. Over at ... get this ..., David Pack demonstrates unequivocally that Christmas trees are of pagan origin. They came from Babylon, related to the story of Nimrod and an evergreen tree that sprouted out of a dead stump. Oh, wait, he also assures us that it came from Egypt where the palm tree was sacred. Now, which is it? What am I to conclude when one source is giving two origins? He quotes Jer. 10:2-5 to warn us about the heathen who cut down trees and bring them into the house and decorate them -- clearly a reference to Christmas trees ... which, oh, by the way, couldn't be the case before Christ's birth. This kind of abuse of Scripture is really offensive and has no place in a discussion of "real truth". Stephen Nissenbaum's The Battle for Christmas (and many other sources) suggests that the Christmas tree tradition is actually a relatively new practice, starting up in the last few hundred years. Doesn't sound much like pagan origins to me. Wikipedia succumbs to the truth as well. While citing a variety of possible origins, the truth comes out. "The modern custom can be traced to 16th century Germany, but apart from that, there was neither an identifiable inventor nor a single town to have been the sole trigger for the tradition." In other words, there may be lots of speculation about origins, but the truth is we just don't have any hard trail to follow. Perhaps it was the Roman celebration of Saturnalia where they decorated a pine tree with red berries. Perhaps it was based on the story of Saint Boniface who felled an oak to teach the Germanic tribes that their oaks were no match for God. Maybe it was from the Druids who used evergreen sprigs to ward away spirits. (It is important to note, here, that similarities in usage does not prove origin.) Do you want to know the real truth about the origin of the traditional Christmas tree? The real truth is that beyond a few hundred years ago when German Christians used them in celebration of Christmas and Martin Luther put lights on one to show his family the wonder of God's creation, we don't really know. So when someone tries to assure you that it's a pagan tradition, you ought to wonder how they know for sure when no one else seems to.

All Things Christmas doesn't seem to offer such outlandish suggestions. Christmas, it seems, has its origins in the Bible. The term, Christmas, refers to Christ's Mass and is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Christ was likely not born in December, but that's not the point. It appears that the Catholic Church chose December for its celebration primarily to compete with pagan events -- a sort of counter balance or redeeming the time, if you will. Santa Claus has his origins in Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Smyrna, who secretly put gold in the socks of some young girls who were on the verge of being sold. (Get it? Gifts ... socks ... secret giving ...). Poinsettias came to America in the 1800's and were likely used in Mexico in the 1700's as part of their Christmas celebration because of the star-shaped flower and a legend about a boy who wished to give a gift to the baby Jesus in the Nativity scene.

The truth is that Christmas traditions have their roots in a variety of places. The early Christians didn't celebrate birthdays, so they didn't celebrate Christmas as Jesus's birthday. When the Church came to power, they attempted to convert their society, including their biggest party in December, to Christianity. They officially declared December 25th as Jesus's birthday. Through the ages, Christmas has undergone a variety of changes. Some were adaptations from pagan parties. Others were ways of demonstrating the truth of the Incarnation. When Cromwell overthrew the king in England, Christmas was banned. In the earliest days of America, Christmas was banned. It was considered too licentious. But Christmas has always come back. It celebrates the Christ child first and foremost and children of all ages after that.

Origins are important. There is little doubt, for instance, that mistletoe came to us by way of fertility rites and holly was used to ward off evil spirits. It is true that ancient cultures worshiped trees. It is true that there is no evidence that the nice story about how candy canes were originally intended to show the purity and blood of Christ is valid. Knowing the truth is good. But I have to ask, how many today are worshiping their Christmas trees, kissing under the mistletoe in the hopes of bearing lots of offspring, or lighting a fire in the fireplace for good luck at the winter solstice? When Dad goes to one knee to grab a gift for little Johnny from under the tree, is he really doing it to worship? Origins are important, but when our culture has already forgotten its Christian origins, it becomes irrelevant that the origins were Christian. In the same way, when the origins of traditions are forgotten and no one practices those origins anymore, is it really an issue? Can't we just celebrate the birth of our Savior without getting our knickers in a self-righteous twist about it? I will.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Go back with me. Let's visit Adam and Eve. I want to take a brief look at Adam before the Fall.

Adam had a phenomenal life back then. Think about it. For food he simply picked up groceries ... whenever he felt like it. No complex processes. No cooking. Hungry? Grab a bite. Done. For work he simply tended the plants and animals which were not, at that time, fighting against him. And then there was his social life. He had the perfect woman, the prototype, the first and the best. The two were one. There were no conflicts, no fights, no disagreements.

Theologically, Adam was in paradise. There were no complex questions about the Law. He didn't have to figure out what "adultery" meant, for instance. "Does it mean the act itself, or does it include intent? What does it mean to 'look on another woman'? What constitutes lust?" Not even a hint of it. His "Law" was singular: "Don't eat of that tree." That's it. Nothing complex. Nothing to figure out. Imagine that. No shades of gray. No question of motivation or intent. No situational ethics. It just doesn't get any simpler than that. As for his relationship with God, it just doesn't get any better. Adam didn't have to operate from the starting point of deserving Hell. He didn't sin. He didn't need salvation. His relationship with God was perfect. Not only did he have a clear relationship with God, but he also had the opportunity to actually talk to Him. They walked together in the cool of the evening. Imagine that! Any question that might come to mind ... could be answered ... then ... verbally. No problems about exactly what God meant when He said ____. Just ask. What was God like? Just ask. What did God want? Just ask. Adam didn't have a Bible because he didn't need a Bible; he got it all straight from the mouth of God.

Adam had it all. He had family support. He had simplicity of theology. He had simplicity of Law. He had no sin nature. He had no financial woes, no physical ailments, no hardships. He had comfort and ease, a perfect relationship with his wife, and a perfect relationship with God in a perfect Garden.

And Adam sinned. One thing ... only one thing that he could violate, and he did it.

Sometimes we tend to think, as we're sitting in church on Sunday, that we're "getting there". We're in the presence of God and His people. We're singing His praises and listening to His Word. Here, in the quiet sanctuary of the sanctuary, we are close to sinlessness, at least for a moment.

When you start to think that, remember Adam. Putting it in the words of the old hymn, "Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling." There, clinging to that cross, totally and completely dependent on the Savior that Adam didn't even need when he started out, that's where we'll stay. It's the reason God sent His Son. Adam proved that not one of us have the capacity to reach sinlessness. We will always need to remain at the feet of our Redeemer. It's a good place to be.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Graven Images

You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Exo. 20:4).
I recently heard this passage quoted as a reason why Nativity scenes shouldn't be part of Christian celebrations. I'm sure you see the point. No likeness of anything that is in heaven ... like Christ.

There is a line of folks primarily in the Reformed category that make an issue out of this. When Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ came out, several said they refused to go see it because we aren't allowed to have any images. They object to art in church. They object to stained glass windows that portray angels or biblical events. Art, carvings, paintings, sculptures, they're all bad.

I don't exactly know how to manage this concept. On one hand I see the command. It's clear. Not a lot of ambiguity. God has stated what He wants, and we who love Him ought to give it to Him. We shouldn't have other gods in His presence. We should honor our parents and not steal and not murder and ... well, you get the idea. If we agree that adultery is not good, why is it okay to have images?

On the other hand, the command is quite clear. Do not make images of anything that is. So ... what about photographs? What about family pictures? The "no image" folks are understandably upset about images of Christ or angels or the like, but what about images of people? It's wrong to have an image of Christ in a movie or on the wall. Okay. What about a church directory with photos? Don't the members of a church fall in the category of things that are "on the earth"? My father-in-law has a really cool screen saver that looks like an aquarium. Is that evil? I mean, fish would be things that are "in the water", right?

I'm looking for clarity. Is this particular command something about which we need to concern ourselves? If not, why not? If so, how do we fit in any pictures whatsoever? It would seem like TV and videos and your coffee table photo album would fall in the category of prohibited items. It seems like it should be easy to answer. Somehow I'm not finding it so easy.

Update: Based on a variety of inputs and some further thought, this is what I've come to. The whole context of the first four commandments (which, by the way, vary based on what your particular view is) has to do with how we relate to God. Other commandments have to do with interpersonal relationships, but these first ones are between you and God. Therefore, it would seem most rational that the context of "no images" refers to worship or service. Are you serving God, or do these images offer you something to serve? By the way, I think that pictures of Jesus, for instance, too often operate as something to serve for too many people. They assume "Jesus is like that" whatever "that" may be and assign to Him the qualities they see in an image. That would be problematic.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Constantine and the Trinity

How many times have you heard it? It will likely be repeated until Christ comes and settles the dispute once and for all. Unfortunately, the proponents of the claim don't seem to care about backing up the claim. It's as if making the claim is sufficient to prove it. What claim? The oft-repeated accusation against 1600 years of Christian doctrine is that the Trinity was a manufactured belief inserted by Constantine at the Council of Nicaea.

Now, I've already offered a host of biblical reasons for the doctrine (reasons that precede Nicaea). Unfortunately, I've also offered the caution of playing the "For the Bible tells me so" card too easily. And we're all aware that "lots of Scriptures" doesn't equate to "necessarily true." So, your Honor, I'd like to offer a couple of other pieces of evidence.

Did you know that the Emperor Constantine was not a believer in the Trinity? Truth be told, Constantine favored Arianism. There was an argument in the Church, so Constantine I called the very first Church Council together to unify the Church. The primary question was the nature of Jesus. The outcome was the Nicene Creed, which includes this statement about Christ: "very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father". Arius denied this and claimed that Jesus was made, not of one substance with the Father. The Council voted some 316 to 2 against Arius. Constantine's role in all of this was to call the Council and to pay for some of their travel and lodging expenses. As it turns out, Constantine himself supported Arianism, but felt that unity in the empire was more important than his view and exiled Arius. Several times in later years he attempted to bring back Arius and his beliefs, but the subsequent Councils continued to deny the Arian doctrine as valid and the Church officially adopted the doctrine of the Trinity against Constantine's personal preferences.

The doctrine of the Trinity, however, predates the Council of Nicaea. This is a key point that so many detractors seem to fail to comprehend. The Council of Nicaea didn't bring it about; it was already in place. The Council of Nicaea didn't make the doctrine; it defended it against a challenge.

Take a cruise around the Internet sometime. You will find several sites that offer a variety of quotes from sources as early as the first century that assume or defend the doctrine of the Trinity. From Polycarp to Irenaeus to Tertullian to Origen, all of whom precede the 4th century, there is a host of references to the Trinity. Indeed, it was the lawyer Tertullian who first coined the term "persons" in reference to the three "persons" of the Trinity. The doctrine historically existed and was assumed as true centuries before it was affirmed at Nicaea despite the best arguments of its detractors.

In closing, your Honor, I'd like to offer one last piece of interesting evidence. It's somewhat outside of the normal realm of the argument, but I think it is pertinent. There are those who argue that the Aramaic Peshitta version of the Bible is the original form. They argue that, rather than being written first in Greek, it was written first in the language of the day, Aramaic, then translated to Greek. There are several interesting reasons for the argument and I don't intend to offer them here or settle that dispute. However, one of the differences between Aramaic and Greek is found in the solely Hebraic word for the Name of God: YHWH. In the Old Testament translations we often find the word YHWH translated as "LORD", where the letters are all capitalized to signify that it is the Tetragramatton -- YHWH. In Greek, however, there is no such possibility. So what if an author of a New Testament book intended that usage? Well, they would have used YHWH in their original Aramaic version, but it would have been translated to kurios in the Greek version. Interestingly, in the English translation of the Aramaic Peshitta version of the New Testament we read this:
No one can say, "Yeshua is YHWH," except by the Set-Apart Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3).
It would appear that one of the earliest known versions of the New Testament assumes an equivalence between "Jesus" (Yeshua) and Jehovah ("YHWH"). That is Trinitarian at its heart.

The next time you hear that Constantine interjected the Trinity into the Church, shake your head and walk away. It has been repeated enough that you will be thought a fool do deny it ... but it isn't true. The historical facts don't support it. Your Honor, I object. Assumes facts not in evidence. Instead, all the evidence -- both biblical and historical -- supports the doctrine of the Trinity from the start of Christianity.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Archbishop says nativity 'a legend'

The headline reads "Archbishop says nativity 'a legend'." The report suggests that the Dr. Rowan Williams denies that the Magi existed, that there were animals in the stable, or that anything that you see in your Nativity is likely accurate.

"Oh, my!" the crowd gasps. "How can he say such things?"

So I looked at the transcript of the interview. The interviewer, Simon Mayo, set about asking about the Christmas story from the perspective of your standard Nativity scene. You know the one. There is Mary and Joseph and the Baby. There are shepherds and three -- always three -- wise men. There are various barnyard animals. There is an angel. Often there is snow on the roof of the stable. Got the picture? Good, because that's what Mayo is asking about.

Mayo asks if any of it is true or even crucial. The Archbishop assures him that Jesus's birth in the manger was a fact. When asked about the Virgin Birth, he says, "That's something I'm committed to." Dr. Williams "passes on the asses". "They don't figure very strongly in the gospel, so I can live without the ox and asses."

Mayo asks next about the wise men. His question is significant. "The wise men with the gold, frankincense, and Myrrh - with one of the wise men normally being black and the other two being white, for some reason?" Note that the interviewer is asking about the race and number of men. Here's Dr. Williams' reply:
Well Matthew's gospel doesn't tell us that there were three of them, doesn't tell us they were kings, doesn't tell us where they came from, it says they're astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That's all we're really told so, yes, 'the three kings with the one from Africa' - that's legend; it works quite well as legend.
Since the Archbishop has already committed to the biblical story of the birth of Christ, Virgin Birth and all, and since the question is about the race of the wise men, it seems quite apparent that "the legend" to which he is referring is not the existence of the Magi, but their racial origin. That is legend.

There is more in the transcript. If you are concerned about the Archbishop's comments, it might do you good to read them. The truth is that he was extremely accurate. There is no biblical account of there being three Magi. We assume it because there are three gifts listed. Where they came from is not offered. Legend includes their names, but the Bible doesn't. And ... get this ... it is not compatible with Scripture to put the Magi in the stable. They weren't there. According to Matthew, they went to a house, not a stable. It is unlikely that Jesus was born in December and unlikely that there was snow on the stable. None of this affects the veracity of the biblical accounts. What is in question, perhaps, is the classic Nativity scene, but is that something that needs to be defended if it doesn't match Scripture?

Christianity is often misrepresented ... even by people in the Church. This is not one of those cases. I have no idea if the Archbishop is a favorable representative of biblical truth or not, but this is not a misrepresentation. We ought to be extremely careful of jumping on a headline before we actually examine the truth. It just makes us look bad when Christians attack a friend.

Carl Sagan - Died Dec. 20, 1996

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." - Carl Sagan
Ironic quote if you ask me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Defending the Trinity

I wonder if it will always be true that the defenders of the doctrine of the Trinity will need to defend against beliefs that are not part of the doctrine as much as beliefs that are. Examples:

1. "Three 'persons' means three individual beings."

2. "The members of the Godhead are distinct and separate."

3. "Trinitarians believe in 3 gods."

4. "If Jesus was God, how could God die?"

And the list goes on.

"Persons" is not a reference to "beings", but more at "personas". Perhaps "characters" would be a better word? Maybe "roles"? Anyway, the doctrine does not allow for a separation of the three. It allows for distinction without separation. (As an example of how something can be distinct without being separate, a hand consists of a palm and five fingers. These parts are distinct, but not separate.) It demands one essence. Since there is only one essence, the Trinity is not tritheism, a triad, or 3 gods in any way, shape, or form.

And Jesus was not solely God - He was God and Man. God didn't die on the cross - the Son of Man did. If the human part of Jesus is ignored entirely, there will never be the inkling of comprehension of the doctrine of the Trinity. Remember, there two types of heresies in the early Church on the nature of Christ. One set out to diminish His deity. The other set out to remove His humanity. Both are heretical. The doctrine of the Trinity demands both that He was God and that He was Man.

I found this interesting quote from Jonathan Edwards describing the Trinity.
"And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence. The Son is the deity generated by God's understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God's infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct persons." (Jonathan Edwards, "An Essay on the Trinity," in Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writings, ed. Paul Helm, Cambridge: James Clarke, 1971, 118.)
That really sums it up nicely.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christological Heresies Review

This is a listing of Christological Heresies (those that disagree with the Trinity) in history. Questioning the doctrine of the Trinity isn't new. Defending the doctrine isn't new.

Started by the followers of Arius who lived in the late 3rd and early 4th century. Arians viewed God the Father as the eternal God, and Christ was a separate, lesser, created being. They held that there was a time when Christ was not. Arianism enjoyed some popular belief before the First Council of Nicaea because Constantine preferred the view as did the Goths, the Ostrogoths, and the Visigoths. Arianism was condemned by the First Council of Nicaea, and the doctrine of the Trinity (whose central term is homoousios - "of the same substance") was confirmed. The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds were written to counter Arianism.

Arianism didn't stop with the decision of the Council. Constantine's son set out to reverse the Nicene Creed. He exiled those who held to the creed and made Arian beliefs the standard of the realm. Arianism was the predominant view in the East for a time despite the multiple councils that met to settle it. Finally, in A.D. 381, the Second Ecumenical Council met (note that Constantine was long dead by this time) and the Eastern bishops accepted the Nicene Creed.

Arianism was the primary view in early medieval Germany even into the 5th century, when they took down the Roman Empire. However, despite their superior strength, they were converted to the Trinitarian view by the 8th century.

Arianism is essentially the same view held by Jehovah's Witnesses today with slight variations. Arius held that Jesus was created "out of nothing", not "begotten" of the same substance as God. (This kind of makes Jesus an adopted son rather than a natural-born son.) Jehovah's Witnesses hold that God is the Father, and that Jesus His firstborn Son. They believe that God created all things by the Word, who is Jesus, but they view the Word as the instrument, while Arius viewed Christ as a co-creator.

Others are viewed to be similar, but they are not accurately "Arian". Mormonism holds more to tritheism rather than Arianism (although it would be more accurate to describe them as polytheists), and Unitarianism believes in the oneness of God (as opposed to the Trinitarian view), but not in the same way as Arius.

Tritheism is the teaching that three separate beings form the Godhead. Tritheism can trace its roots to pagan beliefs, such as the Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. This view is counter to Trinitarian doctrine which confirms three distinct but not separate persons of the same substance. The early church continually affirmed that tritheism was a heresy.

In the 17th century, the Anglican Church revived tritheism, and Mormons still hold to the view today (although they have more of a polytheistic view in the final analysis).

Modalism is likely the most common error when it comes to Trinitarian constructs. Modalism takes several forms, but the basic concept is that One God has expressed Himself in three "modes" throughout history. In the Old Testament we saw "the Father", who, in the Gospels became "the Son", and, after His death, resurrection, and ascension, expressed Himself as the Holy Spirit. These modes were distinct and never simultaneous. Also known as Sabellianism for one its early supporters, Sabellius, the view held some popularity in the 2nd century because of the difficulties of understanding the Trinitarian doctrine. The view was also dubbed, "Patripassianism" - from the Latin words patris for "father", and passus for "to suffer" - because the idea was that the Father came to suffer as the Son.

Modalism is not Trinitarian doctrine. It is currently rejected officially by all but the Oneness Pentecostals. However, it is a common mistake brought about by our standard teachings on the Trinity. For instance, how many of us have not heard the parallel of "water, ice, steam" to the Trinity? However, since these cannot coexist, it lends itself to the heresy of modalism.

Dynamic Monarchianism
Dynamic Monarchianism is the view that Jesus was not in His nature God. It is the view that God existed in Jesus, just as God exists in all of us – but that God existed in Jesus in a particularly powerful way. Jesus was God because God inhabited Him. This view is also called "Socianism" because of its adherent, Socinus, and Psilanthropism (psilo - merely, anthropos - man). The original view said that Christ was born a man, but that at His baptism He became the Christ, and at His death He was adopted by the Father as His Son. (Thus, it is also referred to as "Adoptionism".) This view holds that Jesus was the logos and was homoousis (of the same essence) with the Father, but in the same sense as a man’s reason is homoousios to himself.

Oddly enough, we haven't seem much of this around today. This view denied that Jesus was human. It held that He was simply a vision, that He appeared to be human, but in fact was only Divine.

And on and on
These are the primary ones, but the list goes on and on. Ebionism, Gnosticism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism (the monophysite heresy), many views have come in to either deny the deity or the humanity of Christ. In each view there are shades, variations. All were rejected as heresy by the Church. Despite this, you might even recognize some of them in the views of some today.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Problem Thinker

To my readers: I didn't write this. If I knew who did, I'd give them credit. I just thought it was humorous enough to pass on. Be sure to read all the way to the end.

It started out innocently enough.. I began to think at parties now and then -- just to loosen up.

Inevitably, though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker.

I began to think alone -- "to relax," I told myself -- but I knew it wasn't true. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.

That was when things began to sour at home. One evening I turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She spent that night at her mother's.

I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't help myself.

I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau, Muir, Confucius and Kafka. I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here?"

One day the boss called me in. He said, "Listen, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't stop thinking on the job, you'll have to find another job."

I came home early that afternoon. "Honey," I confessed, "I've been thinking... ."

"I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!"

But, Honey, surely it's not that serious."

"It is serious," she said, lower lip aquiver.

"You think as much as college professors, and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on thinking, we won't have any money!"

"That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently.

She exploded in tears of rage and frustration, but I was in no mood to deal with the emotional drama.

"I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door.

I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche. I roared into the parking lot with NPR on the radio and ran up to the big glass doors.

They didn't open. The library was closed.

To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night. Leaning on the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye, "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked.

You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinkers Anonymous poster.

This is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker.

I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was "Porky's." Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting..

I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home. Life just seemed easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking. I think the road to recovery is nearly complete for me.

Today I took the final step.

I joined the Democratic Party.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Doctrine of the Trinity

One of the biggest distinctives between orthodox Christianity and anything else you might care to examine is the basic doctrine of the Trinity. Odd accusations are tossed out like "You're believing in a doctrine that is not part of Scripture" or "That doctrine was invented in the 4th century."

This post, then, is primarily a homework assignment for my readers. It is a listing of a host of references that help form the biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. They come (as they must) from both the Old and New Testaments. I don't place it here for debate or dialog. I simply want to provide a reference source.

Once you see this (partial) list you will understand why I didn't put every text down and let you read it while I explain it. You can be good Bereans (Hey, it's Sunday! What better to do than spend the afternoon in God's Word?) and look it up for yourself -- it is a massive list. (Funny thing - not one piece of it comes from Augustine or Constantine. How odd!)

General Scriptures regarding the Trinity
Gen. 1:26; Gen. 3:22; Isa. 6:3,8; Isa. 11:2,3; Isa. 42:1; Isa. 48:16; Isa. 61:1-3; Isa. 63:9,10; Matt. 1:18,20 ; Matt. 3:11,16; Matt. 12:18,28; Matt. 28:19; Mark 1:8; Luke 1:35; Luke 3:16,22; Luke 4:1,14,18; John 1:32,33; John 3:34,35; John 7:39; John 14:16,17,26; John 15:26; John 16:7,13-15; John 20:22; Acts 1:2,4,5; Acts 2:33; Acts 10:36-38; Rom. 1:3,4; Rom. 8:9-11,26,27; 1 Cor. 2:10,11; 1 Cor. 6:19; 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Cor. 12:3-6; 2 Cor. 1:21,22; 2 Cor. 3:17; 2 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 13:14 ; Gal. 4:4,6; Phil. 1:19; Col. 2:2; 2 Thess. 2:13,14,16; 1 Tim. 3:16; Titus 3:4-6; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 5:6,7; Rev. 4:8

So ... is Jesus God? First, look at some of the facets of the unique nature of God:

(I certainly hope I don't have to produce Scripture to prove any of the above.)

Now, what does Scripture say about Jesus Christ as God?

Compare Isa. 40:3; Matt. 3:3
Compare Psa. 24:7,10; 1 Cor. 2:8; James 2:1
Compare Psa. 97:9; John 3:31
Compare Psa. 110:1; Matt. 22:42-45
Compare Isa. 40:10,11; Heb. 13:20
Compare Prov. 16:4; Col. 1:16
Compare Joel 2:32; 1 Cor. 1:2

YHWH-tsidkenu (Jehovah our righteousness)
Compare Jer. 23:5,6; 1 Cor. 1:30

Compare Isa. 6:1-3; John 12:41; Isa. 8:13,14; 1 Peter 2:8

Compare Gen. 2:3; Matt. 12:8

Compare Prov. 30:4; Matt. 11:27
John 10:30,38; 12:45; 14:7-10, 16; 15:26; 17:10

John 1:3,10; 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16,17; Heb. 1:2,10; Rev. 3:14
Compare Psa. 102:24-27; Heb. 1:8,10-12
Compare Isa. 40:28; John 1:3; Col. 1:16

Psa. 102:24-27; Prov. 8:22-25; Isa. 9:6; Micah 5:2; Mark 12:36,37; John 1:1,2,4,15; 6:62; 8:23,58; 12:41; 17:5,24,25; Eph. 3:21; 4:10; Col. 1:17; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 1:10-12; 6:20; 7:16,24,25; 13:8; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 John 1:1,2; 2:13,14; Rev. 1:8,11,17,18; 5:13,14

Compare 1 Sam. 2:2; Acts 3:14
Psa. 45:7; 89:19; Isa. 11:4,5; 32:1; 42:21; 49:7; 50:5; 53:9; 59:17; Jer. 23:5; Zech. 9:9; Mark 1:24; Luke 1:35; 4:34; 23:40,41,47; John 5:30; 7:18; 8:46; 14:30; 16:10; Acts 3:14; 4:27,30; 13:28,35; 2 Cor. 4:4; 5:21; Heb. 1:9; 4:15; 7:26-28; 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19; 2:22; 1 John 2:29; 3:5; Rev. 3:7

Heb. 13:8

Psa. 45:3-5; 110:3; Isa. 9:6; 40:10; 50:2,4; 63:1; Matt. 8:3,16,27; 10:1; 12:13,28,29; 28:18; Mark 3:27; 6:7; Luke 5:17; 9:1; 11:20-22; John 2:19; 5:21,28,29; 10:17,18,28; 17:1,2; Phil. 3:20,21; Col. 1:17; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:16; Heb. 1:3; 7:25; 2 Peter 1:16; Rev. 1:8; 3:7; 5:12

Matt. 18:20; 28:20; John 3:13; Eph. 1:23

Prov. 8:1-16; Isa. 11:2,3; 50:4; Matt. 9:4; 11:27; 12:25; 13:54; 22:18; 24:25; 26:46; Mark 2:8; 5:30; 14:13-15,42; Luke 2:40,47,52; 5:22; 6:8; 9:46-48; 22:10-13; John 1:48; 2:24,25; 3:32; 4:16-19,28,29; 5:30,42; 6:64; 8:16; 13:1,2,10,11; 16:30,32; 17:1; 18:4; 21:17; Acts 1:24; Col. 2:3; Rev. 2:18,23; 5:5,12

Gen. 1:26; Psa. 102:25-27; Prov. 8:22-36; John 1:1-3; 6:62; 8:56-58; 17:5; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:1,2,8-12; 2:9,14-16; 4:8; Rev. 4:11

Compare Hos. 1:7; Titus 2:13
Gen. 12:3; 49:18; 2 Sam. 23:6,7; Job 33:23,24; Psa. 14:7; 72:4,12-14,17; 80:17; 89:19; Isa. 8:14; 28:16; 32:2; 40:10,11; 42:6,7; 49:6,8,9; 50:2,8,9; 53:10,11; 59:16,17,20; 61:1-3; 62:11; 63:1,5,8,9; Jer. 23:5,6; 33:15,16; Ezek. 34:23; Hag. 2:7; Zech. 4:7; 9:9; Mal. 4:2; Matt. 1:21; 9:12,13; 15:24; 18:11-13; Luke 1:68-77; 2:11,31,32,34; 5:31,32; 9:56; 15:1-10; 19:10; John 1:9,29; 3:16,17; 4:14,42; 5:26,33,34,40; 6:27,32,33,35,37,39,51,53-58,68; 7:37-39; 8:12; 9:5,39; 10:7,9-11,14-16,27,28; 11:25-27; 12:47; 14:6,19; 16:33; 17:2,3; Acts 3:26; 4:12; 5:31; 13:23,38,39,47; 15:11; 16:31; Rom. 3:24-26; 4:25; 5:1,6,8-11,15,17-19,21; 6:23; 8:2; 10:9,11; 15:7,9; 1 Cor. 1:30; 3:11; 6:11; 10:3,4; 15:17,57; 2 Cor. 5:18,19,21; Galatians 1:3,4; 2:20; 4:7; Eph. 1:10,11; 2:7,13-18,20; 4:8; 5:2,14,23,25,26; Phil. 3:20; Col. 1:12-14,27,28; 2:8,10; 3:3,4,11; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9,10; 2 Thess. 1:12; 1 Tim. 1:1,15; 2 Tim. 1:1,9,10,12; 2:10; 3:15; Titus 1:4; 2:13,14; Heb. 2:3,17; 5:9; 7:22,25; 13:10,20; 1 Peter 1:3,18,19; 2:4-7,25; 3:18,21; 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3,11; 2:20; 1 John 3:5,8; 4:9,10,14; 5:11-13,20; Jude 1:1; Rev. 2:7; 3:18; 5:5-14; 7:10; 14:4; 21:27; 22:1,2

Rom. 9:5
Compare Daniel 10:17; Rev. 1:5; 17:14

Compare Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17; Isa. 48:12-16; Rev. 22:13

Compare Neh. 9:6; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3

Josh. 5:14,15; Psa. 45:11,17; 72:15; Matt. 2:2,11; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 21:9; 28:9,16,17; Mark 3:11; 5:6,7; 11:9,10; Luke 4:41; 5:8; 23:42; 24:52; John 5:23; 9:38; 12:13; Acts 1:24; 7:59,60; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 12:8,9; Phil. 2:10,11; 1 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 1:6; 2 Peter 3:18; Rev. 5:8,9,12-14; 7:10

Okay, now for some Scripture on the Holy Spirit as part of the Trinity.

The character of the Holy Spirit coincides with the character of God.

Rom. 8:11; Heb. 9:14

Psa. 139:7

1 Cor. 2:10-11

Job 26:13; 33:4; Psa. 104:28-30

Peter equates the Holy Spirit with God:

But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." - Acts 5:3-4

Now, of course, the problem with the Spirit is that detractors will say, "Well, of course the Spirit has all the characteristics of deity -- it is simply the Spirit of God. We are saying it is not a person." So proving the deity of the Spirit becomes moot. What needs to be shown is the distinction between God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

Gen. 1:2; 6:3; Neh. 9:20; Psa. 51:11; 104:29; Isa. 48:16; 63:10; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:27; Hag. 2:5

The real problem, of course, is the relational terms used of the Holy Spirit that don't make sense if 1) there is some distinction between God and the Holy Spirit (as indicated in the above verses) and 2) if the Holy Spirit is simply God's "force". A force, for instance, may be resisted, but it is not grieved. A force does not impart wisdom. A force doesn't impart fellowship. The Holy Spirit is referred to as a "person", an entity that feels and acts. Further, He is sent by the Father and the Son. This makes Him a distinct person, not a force.

Another consideration on the general topic is the 3-fold references to God. It occurs multiple times in Scripture - Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; Acts 7:55; 10:38; Rom. 15:16, 30; 2 Cor. 13:14; Gal. 4:6; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 4:2. These passages hold both distinction between each character as well as unity. Further, if Christ is distinct from God, then the Holy Spirit must, in the same way, be distinct from God. So the Holy Spirit must be distinct from the Father rather than merely an emanation of His force.

Oh, and I don't plan to offer a quiz on this homework assignment ... but others might question you on it, so you might want to be prepared.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What Do You Want for Christmas?

I have to admit it. I have more than a couple of problems with Christmas.

Don't get me wrong. Celebrating the Incarnation of the Son of God is a great event. I'm all for it. Remembering the Virgin Birth, recalling the shepherds that worshiped, picturing those wise men who sought Him, these are all good things. And I'm not one of those "Christmas is of pagan origins" types, either. Some of that, quite frankly, is false information. Some of it is true, but who lights a Yule log to ward off the dying sun or kisses under the mistletoe with fertility rites in mind? How many people even know of the cult of Mithras (which is largely credited with making December 25th our "Christmas Day")? No, that stuff doesn't bother me.

I'm bothered by the whole Santa Claus thing. I think that's more insidious than we realize. I know, for instance, that some people have grown up questioning the existence of God because they found out that their parents lied to them about the existence of Santa. That's a problem. And I've already complained about the poor theology Santa-ism brings.

One of the things that bothers me about Christmas is "What do you want for Christmas?" We are told "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:25). Christmas is "the season of giving". In celebrating God who "gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16), we recognize giving as a good thing. Why, then, is the emphasis on getting?

Have you ever been part of a "white elephant exchange"? It's a fairly popular Christmas party game (with many variations) where everyone brings a gift and people open them one by one. The rules, generally, are that you get to exchange what you have opened for something someone else has opened. Often many of the gifts are useless or frivolous things that no one would really want. The obvious goal of the game is to end up with something good and leave others with those good-for-nothing things. It is, after all, more blessed to get than to ... wait ... that's not right.

It is a game, but it is often the mindset of Christmas. "What do I want?" "What can I get out of it?" "I hope, I hope, I hope they get me something good instead of another stupid sweater." That is not a valid representation of "God so loved the world that He gave".

And what about the kids? Parents have a responsibility to teach their children right and wrong. How, at Christmas time, do we teach our children "It is more blessed to give than to receive"? Where are they going to learn the joy of surrendering something that is of value to me to give something of value to someone else? We teach them, "Christmas is a celebration of Christ ... and we plan to get you lots of fun stuff." How do we teach them "Christmas is about Christ giving up Himself ... and we need to learn to give up ourselves"?

A lot of people think of Christmas as a good time, a positive event. They like "the spirit of the season". And there are things to commend it. Still, I suspect that too many of us have put too little thought into something that is too important to ignore. You know what I would want for Christmas? I'd want people who are celebrating the Reason for the Season to put a little more thought into how we can go about demonstrating the reason for the season rather than simply going with the flow ... in the wrong directions. But, if they did that, that would also be my gift to them. No, that doesn't work with the current view of Christmas. I guess I'll have to figure out something more selfish to ask for.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Theology of Santa Claus

Have you ever considered what kind of theology we can glean from Santa Claus? "No," you say, "why should we?" Well, think about it. Who is omnipresent? Who is omniscient? Who is benevolent? Who knows who is "naughty and nice" and rewards people based on that? It doesn't take a lot of thought to realize that Santa is a god. No one else can do what he does without being supernatural. And then there is the natural connection of Santa Claus to Christmas, making him theologically connected from that angle as well. So ... what kind of theology does Santa give us?

"He knows who is naughty and nice." Santa Claus is supposed to know who is good and who is bad. Based on this, Santa will either give nice gifts to the nice and a lump of coal to the naughty. So far, so good. God, too, knows who is good and who is bad. It's easier for God, however. "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Rom. 3:10-12). "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Santa's theology, then, is that people are basically good. There are a few naughty, but down deep people are, by nature, good.

How does one go about getting on the good side of this minor deity? It's very simple; be good. To curry the favor of Santa Claus, all you have to do is good works.

What about the naughty folks? Well, we all know that they are supposed to get nothing from Santa. That's "justice". On the other hand, have we ever actually seen that happen? Does Santa ever really refuse a child a gift at Christmas? Well, despite all the warnings, we all know that the red-suited guy is too kind to shortchange children. The theology? Relax ... there is nothing to fear. There is no justice. There is no punishment. There are no consequences for sin.

What is the point of Santa? What is he all about? Santa is all about making people happy. His entire existence is devoted to giving people what they want. Theologically, then, we can easily conclude that the purpose of deity is to cater to the desires of humans everywhere. His whole purpose should be to make people happy.

Think about it. If we were to devise a deity, what would he be like? He'd be old and white-haired -- a very common conception. He'd be a smiling deity. An angry God is just not acceptable. He'd be interested in good and bad, of course, but not so much so that he'd actually do anything really harmful to anyone over it. No, he'd be a jolly type that would cheerfully warn against doing bad without actually intending any consequences. His sole, overarching concern would be our happiness. There is, after all, nothing more important than us and our happiness.

Why is it that even in Christian circles Santa is sacrosanct? Don't question him. Don't even suggest to children that he doesn't exist. It is wrong -- evil -- to tell children there is no Santa. Why is it that we lie to our children about Santa and expect them to believe us when we talk about Christ? Santa denies absolutely fundamental biblical theology like Man's basic sin nature, God's grace (unmerited favor), justification by faith apart from works, the justice of God, His hatred for sin, His holiness. Instead of God and His glory as the central issue, Santa makes us and our happiness the central issue. There is so much false theology to overcome. And there is the damage of parents who knowingly lie to their children. What could possibly be the up side of teaching our children that there really is a Santa Claus?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Problems of Global Warming

Oh, man! There is a global warming event going on in Bali and those stupid scientists over at the University of Rochester have suggested that the current global warming models are wrong! It doesn't help that one of the scientists who have published this information is also one of the "consensus" group from before that assured us that global warming at the hands of Man was a scientific fact.

Think about this. China currently has 22 million motor vehicles, producing 4 million in 2003 alone. Currently the US has 243 million vehicles. China is predicting 150 vehicles per 1000 people in the near future. (For 1.3 billion people, that's 195 million vehicles.) The US has an estimated 500 cars per 1000 people. Currently India is rising in its vehicle numbers. In 2005 alone over 1 million passenger vehicles were sold in India. Currently they are at 7 cars per 1000 people but expect to surpass the US in numbers of vehicles in the next 40 years. (For 1.1 billion people, India has over 7.7 million cars.) Apparently the US will not be the primary source of auto emissions in a very short time. The only reason that China and India are currently producing less greenhouse gases than the US is because they are only just now beginning to catch up with the US economically. China is rapidly building coal-burning power plants. The price of petroleum is skyrocketing because of the growing demand from China and India. So if China and India are to be the models of low emissions, does that mean we should return to auto-less, poor living?

The claim is offered that the US cannot sell its cars in China because their emission standards are too stringent. The truth is that China didn't even have emission standards until 2000. Currently the Buick is a top seller in China. Daimler Chrysler is selling Dodges in China. In 2005, Ford sold nearly 80,000 cars in China and Buick sold about 128,000. In fact, GM has been selling cars in China since 2003 (after the emission standards went into effect). They have a factory in Shanghai that expects to sell 1 million cars this year. That's not bad for banned cars.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the largest contributor to global warming and air and water pollution is not American factories or automobiles. It is the world's livestock. There are a variety of suggestions as to what to do about this problem, but you won't likely hear about this in the global warming cries for reform.

The Kyoto Protocol is a big sticking point. Everyone else is doing it; why aren't we? While some 172 "parties" (mostly countries, although the EU is a "party" of its own) have ratified it, only 36 actually have to do anything. One hundred thirty-seven of them only have to monitor their output. Well, that's not entirely accurate. Those 36 either have to decrease their emissions or they can do "emissions trading". The EU ETS (European Union Emission Trading Scheme) is the largest of these trading schemes. In this process organizations can decrease their output of emissions or they can pay a fine or they can pass off their emissions to an organization with smaller emissions who will take credit for the first organization's emissions for a price. In other words, there is no real reduction; it just looks like it. Bottom line: Individual companies are free to choose how or if they will reduce their emissions.

It seems, in fact, that the Kyoto Protocol approach is Al Gore's approach ... and many others like him. In any given gathering of folks concerned about the environment you'll find an abundance of ... SUVs. What's up with that? Most people deeply concerned about global warming are still driving, still flying, still producing the same "carbon footprint". Their answer for themselves is not "Stop it!" It is "Have someone else do it!" They pay for a tree to be planted somewhere and say, "There, I've made up for the fact that I won't change my ways but want everyone else to."

But the real question I have that has yet to be answered apparently is what are we to do? It seems manifestly foolish to suggest we should "Stop driving." I mean, Al Gore, with all his fervent ardor over the issue, is producing his own massive amounts of greenhouse gases traveling about spreading his message. We could stop producing cars or outlaw autos, but that makes no sense. We could cripple the US economy (since the US is the biggest offender), shut down the factories, put millions out of work, stop the need for driving about, and that might stop the US from "offending", but it won't change China (the #2 offender) or India or any of the other nations developed or developing that would be more than happy to pick up our slack. Surely we need to switch from oil dependency, but that's not a global warming problem. That's a simple matter of limited supplies. Estimates currently are that we'll run out of oil in 40 years, so obviously we need to do something about it. But simply decreasing the amount of power we use or increasing the gas mileage we get won't fix this problem if it is the problem they say it is. What are we supposed to do?

In the movie, Independence Day, the President asks the alien what they wanted. What would it take to appease them? Its one word answer was, "Die." I suppose that would appease the environmentalists in their global warming terror ... but isn't the goal to make the world better for the future generations? I don't suppose eliminating the human race would accomplish that, would it?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Going Down to Egypt

I wrote recently about the problem of a political "alliance with Egypt". It was based on Isaiah 30-31. I would be remiss if I left it there. The topic of that passage is not who to vote for in 2008. The topic of that passage is God's people deciding to make alliances with the world when faced with a serious problem.

The key phrase is found in Isa. 31:1 -- "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help." In Scripture, Egypt is often used as a parallel for the world. When Egypt held Israel as slaves, it was an image of the world holding God's people as slaves. When Moses led Israel out of Egypt via the Red Sea, it was an image of baptism, escaping the world and being free. When Israel complained in the desert and longed for the delicacies of Egypt, it was an image of people who could be free, but longed for the slavery of the world in return for the temporal benefits the world provides. Over and over "Egypt" was a reference to the world.

In Isa. 30-31, Israel faced a real problem. Assyria was coming. It wasn't a false fear. It wasn't a fabrication. It was a real problem. Assyria was a superpower of her day. No one stood in her way -- certainly not little Jerusalem. Opposition to Assyria simply meant certain death. So seeking the support of another superpower seemed like the only logical approach. It made sense. It was reasonable. Certainly "do nothing and count on God" didn't seem to make much sense at all. Ironically, that was closer to the right response than alliance with Egypt.

The Church today faces real problems. More and more people are questioning the need for religion in general and Christianity in particular. More and more voices are calling for the abolition of Christianity in America and the civilized world. Even without these extremists, your everyday folks are wondering, "Do I really need religion?" The sense of it is that the Church is not really relevant for today. In the late 20th century, George Barna stated that if the Church did not reinvent herself in the 21st century, she would cease to exist. Now, that is a serious problem.

The response has been ... largely a trip to Egypt. Some churches have succumb to the "seeker-sensitive" approach. Rick Warren's idea was to use the world's marketing approach. Find out what they want and don't want in a church and give it to them. "Oh, you don't like to hear about sin? Okay, we won't talk about it. Oh, you do like entertainment? Okay, we'll give it to you." (Yes, I'm oversimplifying ... but not much.) Brian McLaren's idea was adopt the world's skeptical approach and reinvent the Church from the bottom up. Stop claiming to have the truth. Stop trying to convert folks. Let's have a "generous orthodoxy" where the only thing of which we are certain is that people who are certain are certainly wrong. Our "gospel" will be about feeding the poor and helping the homeless and that sort of thing. The Emergent Church (Yeah, I write that as if it's an organization -- not quite.) is a response to this serious problem of the potential demise of the Church in the 21st century. Rob Bell has taken his message on the road to assure folks that God isn't really mad about sin and let's just set that whole "wrath of God" thing aside, okay?

Now, most churches haven't gone as far as this. Most have, however, felt the necessity to call on the world for help. We need to adopt their music. We need to incorporate their appearance. We need to meet their felt needs before trying to speak to their real need -- Christ. We need to adopt the world's entertainment and look and feel so that people of the world will come into our churches and feel comfortable. Then we can go to work. Frankly, we've gone down to Egypt -- the world -- for all sorts of alliances. We scramble for political power. We want to adopt their culture. We hope to use their methods of entertainment. We've even adopted democracy as theology. God, we believe, has done all that He can do; now we have to cast our vote for or against Him. Egypt, it seems, is where we go most often.

God says, "In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust is your strength" (Isa. 30:15) Faith and repentance -- that's what God says is needed. "No," we say, "the threat it too great. We need help from the world."

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help. If it is true that the Church will cease to exist if she does not reinvent herself, then she needs to cease to exist. If God is counting on us to maintain that which is His, then He is not God. Here's God's opinion: "Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?" (James 4:4). Sure, it seems to make sense to adopt worldly ways to accomplish this daunting task. Unfortunately, too few seem to be asking the opinion of the Owner and Founder and Power of the Church how He wants it done. Perhaps that's a better place to start?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Doonesbury on the Church

Mr. Trudeau, I know several theologians. You, sir, are no theologian.

Gary Trudeau is no friend of Christianity. And in this particular piece he has not accurately captured the orthodox Christian view of the nature of sin. He's parroting the classic "The only reason Christians are good is fear of Hell" line. We're not "recovering sinners".

It is the fact that Trudeau is no Christian apologetic that makes it so striking that he has captured a truth here that so many others in the Church seem to be missing. People are looking for a church. Good. But they aren't looking for "the traditional Gospel." No, indeed. And many, many churches have all this part down. "No," these "seekers" say, "we're not interested in guilt or sin or redemption. Too much negativity. Give us a positive message."

Trudeau caught that problem. He saw the dichotomy. The Gospel is all about redemption from sin. Without it, you don't get "church". That's the first step in Christianity. Encouraging folks to feel good about themselves is not the Gospel and ignores the real problem. "Yes, we know you have a cancer that will kill you, but, hey, there's no real reason to treat it. You don't want to talk about it. You don't want to hear about it. And we can really help in masking all that and make you feel good about yourself." That, fellow Christians, is neither love nor "Gospel".

Monday, December 10, 2007

Why Be Good?

"The only reasons that Christians are moral is either fear of hell or hope for heaven."

I heard a caller make this blithe statement on a radio show to which I was listening on the way home the other day. The show was not a Christian show on Christian radio. The host was talking about who to vote for in the presidential race -- specifically about Romney and his religious views. The host had stated that he would prefer someone with religious views than an atheist because atheists had no moral basis and he wanted someone with a basis for morality. It was particularly interesting because the host admitted he was "not particularly religious" himself. Still, he held this view. And, of course, it offended the atheist caller.

I've heard it too often before myself. It appears that, to the non-believer, all of Christian morality is based on fear of hell or hope for heaven. Further, from their perspective it seems that this is our only motivation for ever doing anything good or avoiding anything bad. I wasn't aware of that fact.

Historically, biblical Christianity has always held that the basic ethic for salvation is grace, and the basic ethic for Christian living is gratitude. I suspect that a lot of people, Christians included, have missed this point. Christianity is often viewed as a moral system, a way of making people behave. People can hear over and over, "It's all about grace and mercy, not morality," but they don't seem to get it.

I think Isaiah says it so well:
"In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15).
Salvation resides in repentance -- turning from my sin -- and rest -- placing my sole means of salvation in God and His grace and mercy. Christian living resides in quietness -- placing myself in the hands of God -- and trust -- expecting God to do what is right. Nowhere in this equation do I find "avoid punishment" or "gain eternal reward". Not that these are bad things, but to the believer they don't play any part in the motivation.

The most comprehensive motivation for a believer to do what is right and avoid what is wrong is gratitude. The point is love of God. This is why Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). And it's not like this is a bizarre notion. My wife says, "It sure would be nice if we could go out to eat" and I "obey". It's not fear of punishment -- "I don't want her to be mad at me if I don't" -- or hope for reward -- "Hmmm, if I take her to dinner, she might give me something in return." It is love. So also is the Law to the Christian. It is God's listings of "I like this" and "I don't like that." Someone who loves God would naturally respond with "Well, then, I want to do this and I don't want to do that."

You'll hear it a lot. It's a common theme. "The only motivation for morality in religion is fear of eternal punishment and/or hope for eternal reward." I suspect that is largely true for religion in general. It is not true in biblical Christianity. Our motivation is to act out of love for God, not fear or greed. It's not that hard to understand.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Good for the Soul

Paul of Paul's Ponderings has an entry about the necessity of acknowledging personal sins. He talks about our tendency to bemoan societal evils without actually noting our own failures. Paul is right. I noticed, however, another interesting tendency in biblical confessions.

First and foremost in biblical confession is indeed the confession of personal sin. After the swarm of locust in Egypt, Pharaoh admitted, "I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you." (Exo. 10:16). You'll see it in Balaam (Num. 22:34), Achan (Josh. 7:20), Saul (1 Sam. 15:24), David (2 Sam. 12:13; Psa. 51:4) and many other Old Testament folks. In the New Testament, the Prodigal Son admits his sin to his father (Luke 15:21), Judas admits his sin of betraying Christ (Matt. 27:4), and, when faced with the obvious deity of Christ, Peter told Jesus, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). It is indeed the point of Jesus's admonition to "first take the log out of your own eye" (Matt. 7:5).

There is another interesting form of confession in the Bible that seems to follow the personal confession quite closely. You can find it in a variety of places, but I'll just use a few examples. First, there is Isaiah who "saw the Lord" (Isa. 6). When confronted with His holiness, Isaiah has only one response: "Woe is me! For I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (Isa. 6:5). There is a personal confession of sin there, but it is followed by a corporate confession of sin as well. Isaiah notes first and foremost his own sin of "unclean lips", but right behind that he sees he is part of a group of people that suffers from the same malady. Daniel does the same kind of thing.
"O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from Your commandments and rules (Dan. 9:5).
What a prayer opener! No tiptoeing through the issues. "God, you're great and we're evil." Read through Daniel 9. It's a fascinating prayer. Every mention of "us" seems to be in terms of "how evil we are". And Daniel clearly isn't saying "them." It's "us." "We" are to blame. "We" are the ones who have failed. He points out the rotten things that have happened to his people ... and assigns them to the "justice" category. It was right of God to have done all that. He holds a "we deserved every bit of it" kind of attitude. And when Daniel asks for God's mercy based on God's promises, he doesn't plead on behalf of the goodness of himself or his people or by claiming a promise. He pleads solely on the basis of God's glory.

One of the most impressive of this type of prayer to me is found in Nehemiah. In Neh. 9 they have a group prayer with all of Israel gathered in sackcloth. Read that prayer sometime. Every mention of God is "Oh, how wonderful You are" and every mention of themselves and their history is "Oh, how we've sinned."

I agree with Paul that we need to recognize personal sin. It is a command. Examine ourselves first. Going one step further, then, I think we would benefit from recognizing our sins as the people of God. It's just too easy to sit here and point out the evil of the world, the politicians, the media, the entertainment industry, and on and on. The truth is that we as individuals and we as God's own people stand guilty of sin ourselves, and pointing out the evil of the evil world does little good. On the other hand, "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14). We really need the healing of "our land", the Church, and we really need to humble ourselves, pray, seek God's face, and turn from our wicked ways. That won't happen while we're busy pointing fingers elsewhere.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


We have many perceptions about "repentance" and what it means. The first idea that most people come up with is a sorrow over sin. Other "more learned" folks will tell you that it's a turning away from sin. Okay, fine ... but what is it really?

In Hebrews 12, the author talks about Esau selling his birthright: "For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears" (Heb. 12:17). Tears, you see, and repentance are not necessarily linked (2 Cor. 7:10).

Well, anyone with children would likely know this. Catch a kid with his hand in the cookie jar, for instance, and he'll likely cry. It isn't repentance he's exhibiting; it's fear of punishment. He is not weeping over the fact that he transgressed the rules. He's crying because he got caught and it's likely going to be unpleasant for him.

This illustrates the problem of repentance. Are we so upset for transgressing God's command and falling short of His glory that it demands in us a change of direction, or is it something else? It seems like there are lots of options for that "something else". Maybe we're afraid of punishment. Maybe we're afraid of embarrassment. Maybe pointing out sin makes it more difficult to continue doing what we want to continue doing. There are lots of reasons to cry (in whatever form that might take) when confronted with our sin, but I fear that it is too rarely because we so dearly love God that we are grieved for His loss due to our failures.

Repentance comes about when we are faced with our sin. It is a necessary component of salvation. No one gets saved without repentance. Repentance, unfortunately, can be too often mimicked, a false form that looks a lot like the real thing but isn't. I am quite certain that many people think they have repented but haven't. Repentance occurs because of God's goodness (Rom. 2:4), not our fear of loss or hope for gain. It is a product of love for God. And it isn't as hard to verify as some might think. True repentance is a gift (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25) that produces a changed life (Matt. 3:8; Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:10).

It would be wise for us to each examine ourselves. Sorrow for sin that is not based on a love for God is not repentance, and without repentance we cannot be among the saved. It's not a trivial matter.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Scary Stuff

Over at Pyromaniacs there is a post on the Scariest Man Ever. Dan lists Judas Iscariot as his "scariest man ever". Why? Judas had everything going for him. He was part of the twelve. He spent years in the company of Christ and His closest disciples. He even took part in the ministry. Still, at the end, Judas became a voluntary tool of Satan (Luke 22:3) and betrayed his Savior for 30 pieces of silver.

I can see why Dan thinks of Judas as a scary individual. Perhaps the scariest passage of Scripture in my mind is a similar thought:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:21-23).
There are some important things to look at here to understand why it scares me so.

Jesus says of the number of people to whom this applies, "Many". He doesn't say "some" or "a few". It is a large number. There will be many who will come to Him on Judgment Day thinking, "I did what You wanted me to do" and did not. Deceived ... that's what they are. And apparently completely unaware of it.

Interestingly, the distinction in the passage between those who enter the kingdom and those who don't isn't whose name they use when they prophesy, whether or not they cast out demons, or to whom they give the credit when they perform miracles. Selah! Stop and think about that. These people are beyond the norm. They aren't merely those who profess faith. They seem to act on it. What is the disconnect between their act and their entrance into the kingdom? "The one who does the will of My Father." They did "stuff" -- even amazing, magnificent "stuff" -- and they even did it in God's name. It wasn't, apparently, part of God's will. That is the disconnect.

What should we look for to avoid this pronouncement? I find my clearest clue in Jesus's response: "I never knew you." It would seem that to do the will of the Father it is necessary to know the Son. Note that "know the Son" isn't sufficient to describe what I'm saying. There must be a personal relationship. It is often said, "It's not what you know; it's who you know." In the case of entering the kingdom, it's not what you know or even who you know; it's Who knows you. Paul said something similar:
Now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more (Gal. 4:9)?
When we know God and He knows us, there is a change that occurs in the person. This change is that we seek to do the will of the Father, not simply "be good" or "be religious." We bear the fruits of repentance, which fruit Jesus said marks us (Matt. 7:20).

It's a funny thing. It seems like the only people who are troubled by this passage are people who actually have a relationship with Christ. Sometimes they are deeply aware of their own failures to do the will of the Father. Often they are driven by a deep love for Christ to do more for Him, aware all the while of their own shortcomings. This "fruit inspection" is a dangerous thing when it is turned outward, but it is absolutely necessary for us to use on ourselves. Are you doing the will of the Father or are you simply being religious? Are you trying to avoid punishment or are you longing to please the Savior you love? Don't look at the person next to you. It's not up to you to figure out their heart. But it is absolutely essential for your own well-being that you examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. I don't want to end up like Judas or the "many" who thought they were busily about the matters of God while they were really only fooling themselves and never had a functioning relationship with Christ. That is really scary to me (Phil. 2:12).