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Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I went to see the movie Fireproof with my family this last weekend. If you haven't heard of it, it's by the same folks that brought us Facing the Giants. It is an unabashedly Christian movie with an unabashedly Christian theme and an unabashedly Christian message. In other words, I don't expect to see it in the next round of Oscar nominations, and not because of its quality.

The movie stars Kirk Cameron as Caleb Holt, a fire captain with marriage problems. His wife, Catherine, played by Erin Bethea (from Facing the Giants), is ready to leave him because, let's face it, he's a jerk. Before he actually goes to his lawyer, however, his father asks him to take a 40-day challenge called a "love dare." Well, that's the story. You can figure out the outcome without my help.

The film is not quiet about its intent. In the middle of his 40-day excursion that is not working, he tells his father that it's a complete loss. His father asks, "Are you reading everything every day?" Well, of course Caleb is not. There is a Bible verse at the end of each page, and he's not interested in religion. He's just trying to save his marriage. His father uses his marital situation to illustrated his situation with God ("How can she expect us to have a relationship when she won't give me the respect I deserve?"). And Caleb is forced to see his heart problem before God rather than his marriage problem with his wife. The movie is overtly about Christianity, no doubt.

The message is also about marriage. One of the first things Captain Holt tells one of his new guys is "You never leave your partner behind" after a fire. That becomes the theme. Caleb learns that, while defending himself, he has ignored his failings that he is forced to face and deal with.

Kirk Cameron does a good job in the film. I'm afraid he was the only one I saw as a person in the movie. The rest were ... actors. And, well, I guess that's okay. For most of the cast, this was their very first movie. So there is some wooden dialog and some less than perfect acting. But that's okay. The message came across. And I was fascinated by this little bit of trivia:
Kirk Cameron, a fundamentalist Christian evangelist, refuses to kiss any woman other than his wife under any circumstance, so to film a scene in which his character in Fireproof (2008) kisses his wife, the filmmakers had to dress Cameron's real-life wife, Chelsea Noble, as the wife character (played throughout the rest of the movie by Erin Bethea) and shoot the kissing scene in shadow so the difference between Noble and Bethea would not be as evident onscreen.
It was a straightforward movie with straightforward messages. 1) You need Jesus. 2) You need to fireproof your marriage. Good. I can't complain.

My only complaint, in truth, is the suggestion that "If you do these steps, you can fireproof your marriage." The idea that was portrayed was that these procedures will always result in saving one's marriage. I feel the need to point out that life doesn't always work that way. Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do. Doing the right thing for the right reasons is even better. Doing the right thing for the right reason that does not include my self-interest is typically the best. This is true even when the outcome isn't the most pleasant.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Hollywood State of Mind

Imagine, for a moment, a life that was designed by Hollywood. Let's see ... what have we learned by watching movies and television?

We know for certain that there are aliens in the universe. There is no doubt about that. It is, in fact, very likely that they are here among us. Not to worry, however. Despite the fact that they have superior technology, we can always beat them. Always. Good to know.

It is interesting to learn the hierarchy of wisdom. Going by Hollywood's standards, ranking from wisest to most foolish, it breaks down something like this. Animals are at the top of the chain. They know things. They anticipate things. They are tuned to the universe. Definitely at the top. I think it is native Americans next. Despite the fact that history teaches that they were often war-like and violent, they have always been peace-loving, wise people. They understand the connection between Man and Nature and give Nature the reverence Nature deserves. Next is certainly children. Anyone at all under the age of 18, actually, is full of secret wisdom -- deep insights into life gathered from their years of living ... the fewer number of years, the wiser. Finally, at the bottom of the wisdom pile, is the adult human. They know hardly anything. Males least of all. Fathers, in fact, the least of the least. This we know from Hollywood.

We know that religion is bad, especially Christianity. It is, at best, ludicrous, something to laugh at. More likely it is really bad. It causes nothing but harm while deluding people into thinking there is a reason to hope. Foolish people. Religion is bad. Morality is stupid. Values are nonsense. And anyone who believes in that stuff doesn't actually think. Intelligent people know better.

Hollywood has all but eliminated the possibility of spiritual things. Oh, sure, we know there are exceptions. There are demons and ghosts and the people that can see them. And who can doubt that vampires and werewolves exist? But the world is almost exclusively a physical existence. We know that DNA can be extracted from a sample at a crime scene within minutes. We know that all problems can be solved ... usually in less than an hour ... okay, maybe two at the most. But there are neat solutions to everything and nothing really takes very long. We know that humans have the technology to insert a virus into an alien spacecraft computer, a virus sufficient to destroy an entire fleet of alien ships. Beauty is certainly not in the eye of the beholder ("We will tell you what is beautiful") and absolutely only skin deep ("Character doesn't really count. I mean, who really has character anyway?") Beauty, it seems, rarely actually happens in nature. Fortunately, surgery can fix that. Hey, there's an entire series on how plastic surgery can improve your life! And it's a good thing because sex is purely recreational ... and absolutely necessary for life. We know that marriage is a curse at best. Oh, sure, it can be a good thing when two people are "in love", but that only lasts for a very short time. (Makes sense, you know, since adults are the stupidest thing on the planet, especially when men are involved.) We know when it comes to "normal", there is no such thing. "Reality" is a small group of people living on remote islands competing for money. And while, according to some, more than half of America is obese, we know that the only really worthwhile people to know are impossibly thin, unusually beautiful, and typically rich. Oh, you're not? Too bad.

Oh, and one thing is certain beyond a doubt. There are conspiracies. They go as high up as they can go. Seriously, as high as they can go. There are family conspiracies where parents are against their children. There are government conspiracies that originate from places higher than the President. There are religious conspiracies that have lasted longer than the religion they are from. It is suggested that God Himself (who, if you recall, intelligent people are quite sure doesn't exist) is involved in His own conspiracy against humans. There are vast conspiracies affecting each and every one of us, utilizing technology that doesn't actually exist for ends that are never quite clear involving people who are always shadowy and evil ... although we all thought they were the good guys.

Let's see, then. From Hollywood we have learned that the universe is against us but we have the technology to defeat it. We know that values are meaningless, sex is just another game, and hope is a stupid thing to pursue. The people in charge are morons at best and conspirators at worst. So ... don't worry, be happy. It's all good.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Cheerful Giver

So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Cor. 9:5-8).
How many times have we heard that? It usually comes up in the context of a question something like this: "Do Christians have to tithe?" "Oh," we are kindly assured, "that's an Old Testament thing. No, no, you give what the Lord leads you to give. You know, 'the Lord loves a cheerful giver.'" It is an excuse, a reason not to give. I find it astounding. If we are sinners, with sins forgiven, it would seem that we should love much. It would seem that, instead of an excuse not to give, we would want to work really, really hard at becoming a cheerful giver.

In Paul's day, the churches in Macedonia were extremely poor. The area was overrun multiple times by competing armies. Still, Paul says, "We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part" (2 Cor. 8:1-2). Even with their "extreme poverty", they begged Paul to be able to contribute to the needs of other Christians. Paul uses them as an example for the richer Corinthian church. "As you excel in everything -- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you -- see that you excel in this act of grace also" (2 Cor. 8:7).

There is no richer country on the Earth than the United States. If you make more than $1500 a year, you make more than 85% of the world. Now, rich, of course, is a relative term. No one, for instance, could survive in this country on $1500 a year. The call is not to do so. But to deny that we are rich by trying to pass it off to the Bill Gateses and big oil company tycoons is to ignore the obvious. We've bought a lie. We Christians in America actually believe that 2 TVs, 2 cars, microwave, video game, a couple of computers, yearly vacations, cable and high-speed Internet are needs, not excess. We've been bitten by the Cash Cow. We've pointed too long at those "evil rich", forgetting that we're among them. ("Thank you, God, that I am not like those rich.")

So, like Paul, I'd like to ask you to consider this. You are rich. Even those in "extreme poverty" excelled at giving. I would like to call on you, the rich in this world, to consider excelling at the act of grace that we call "giving". I would urge you to consider moving into the realm of that which God loves and become a cheerful giver.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Credit Card Spending

Years ago I ran into financial difficulty. I didn't see it coming at all. You see, I thought we were being wise.

My wife and I didn't see credit cards as "cash". We kept one around for emergencies only. We preferred to operate on a cash-only basis. Unfortunately, we didn't think of the future when it came to cash-only. If it was cash, it was expendable. We paid our bills. We bought what we could afford. But we didn't put anything away. And when (not if) those emergency situations arose, we opted to go the credit card route. An unexpected automobile breakdown or a need to repair a water heater and before long you'll find you're much deeper in debt than you realized. Well, in the end my wife left me with the kids (great!) and the debt (sigh). I paid off the debt and raised the kids and it wasn't easy. And I learned a valuable lesson. Cut up the credit cards. Don't live beyond your means ... and that means what might happen as well as what you would like to have.

Now we find the federal government trying to run the same game. Use the available cash for whatever they want to use it for. Use credit for the emergencies. Borrow from 300 billion Americans to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and AIG and, well, all those banks with all those other bad debts. It's an emergency! And it may well be, but who is going to pay for this? We're already sporting a debt to which no one can see an end. How is this a good thing?

The market is indicating that this is a good thing, but I'm thinking that nationalizing a major portion of America's debt is not a good move. I'm wondering how much debt has to accrue before we see a problem. I wonder how much it's going to hurt when the payments exceed the capacity. I wonder when this is going to get more expensive than we can afford ... in more ways that one. My suggestion to our government? Bite the bullet, cut up the credit cards, and start living on what you're making.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Political Posturing

Let me preface this with a disclaimer. I am not a John McCain fan. I am not an Obama fan either. I'm just an onlooker trying to figure this stuff out.

So ... Senator John McCain makes news by suspending his run for President because of an extremely pressing economic crisis. He calls on his opponent to do the same. Senator Barack Obama says, "No." Sure, there is an economic crisis, but what America really needs is a debate, not a solution. And the public goes wild. "Political posturing!" they cry. "It's a ploy. He's just not ready to debate. He's trying to make himself look good. It's a trick!"

I'm trying to figure this out. Go back to 2005 -- Hurricane Katrina. The complaint was that President Bush was asleep at the wheel. He didn't act fast enough. He fiddled while New Orleans burned (speaking figuratively, of course). Fast forward to yesterday. What do we see? John "McSame" steps away from the "asleep at the wheel" Bush image and moves quickly to participate in solving the crisis. The "change candidate", on the other hands, prefers to go on with business as usual and let someone else handle the situation. This is so confusing. Who is who?

But I'm really confused about the McCain backlash. People are sure there is some ulterior motive. "He's not ready to debate" makes no sense. The debate is on foreign affairs. If there is anywhere that McCain rules over Obama, it is foreign affairs. If there is any gain in postponing the debate, it is to Obama. "It's a ploy." I'm just not getting it.

Think of it this way. What would be the right thing to do? It seems to me that if you are a member of the most influential governing body in the most influential country on the planet, and that country is facing a serious crisis, the right thing to do is to set aside personal goals in favor of solving a national crisis. So which senator is doing that?

It seems to me that to prove that McCain is "evil" in doing what he has done, you would need to argue that it is wrong to attend to the crisis. You would need to show that it is the wrong thing to do. Conjecture about ulterior motives is all well and good, but is it the right thing to do? If not, why not?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Political Advertising

Maybe I'm just not watching enough TV. Maybe I'd better do better than this. Or maybe it's my location. Whatever it is, the political ads I'm seeing are ... odd.

We're getting a glut of them, of course. They're almost exclusively from the Democrats. Just taking all the ads at face value, here is what I know. I know that Representative John Shadegg (R) is a bad guy. He has done all sorts of bad things. His opponent, Bob Lord (D), is upset and, therefore, wants me to vote for him. What Mr. Lord will do for me I have no idea. I only know that I must not vote for that other guy. In fact, it's the case with all Republicans in this state, it seems. I've seen multiple ads against multiple Republicans. They are, apparently, all illegal, immoral, un-American folks. Don't vote for them. What the Democrats running against them offer I haven't a clue.

There has been one -- only one -- Republican ad that I've seen. It lists a series of newspaper headlines that extol the records of John McCain and Sarah Palin. It says, in essence, "They've done good so far. We should vote them in." It does not say, "Don't vote for those dirty, rotten other people."

Now, I know that the Republicans aren't "angels". I know that both sides like to play dirty. But there are two things I see here. First, given the certainty of the "Republican Attack Machine" without a Democratic counterpart, why is it that all of the Democrats' commercials I've seen are attacks while none of the Republican ads are attacks? What's up with that? Second (and more importantly), why does politics have to be so much "Hate those other people" with barely a hint of "Here's what I can do for you"? What I'm really wondering here is this: Is this what Americans have come to?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Avoid Such Men

There is a set of biblical commands that, in all honesty, is often ignored, hard to obey, and a little puzzling for most of us ... me included. I'll point them out for you.
... avoid such men as these (2 Tim. 3:5).

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler -- not even to eat with such a one (1 Cor. 5:9-11).

Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself (Prov. 22:24-25).

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame (2 Thess. 3:14).

If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer (Matt. 18:15-17).
Okay, first, about whom is 2 Tim. 3:5 talking? You have to read the passage, starting at 2 Tim. 3:1. Suffice it to say they are people who present themselves as good teachers and leaders and defy God. Moving on, however, I think you can see a pattern here in these instructions. It is unavoidable that there is a group of people with whom we are not to associate. In Corinthians it even specifies "not even to eat with such a one." The concept comes from all over -- Old Testament and New. The commands come from the wisdom of Solomon, the Apostolic authority of Paul, and the divine word of Christ. These aren't vague, hard to read, difficult to understand passages. There is nothing ambiguous here.

So, what do we know? We know that there are people we are supposed to avoid. We know that they are sinful people. We also know -- and this is of key importance -- that these commands are not in reference to unbelievers. Paul specifically says, "I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world." The idea is not avoiding sinful people in the world. The idea is avoiding people who claim to be Christians while indulging in sin. What else do we know? Well, we know the purpose of this approach -- to try to push them into repentance. Disassociation here is a last resort after having tried multiple approaches possibly with multiple people in an attempt to get these "believers" to turn from their sin. The 1 Cor. 5 reference, in fact, follows Paul's stunning "I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh" (1 Cor 5:5) passage. It is a method intended to shock them into restoration, not a punitive measure.

So ... what's the problem? Well, this seems really hard for us Christians to actually do. First, it seems counterproductive. I mean, if you aren't spending time with them, how can you get them to return? Of course, this entirely misses the point that before you stop associating with them, you spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get them to repent. Oh ... well ... look, it seems so ... I don't know ... harsh. I mean, it seems as if it's saying that we can associate with the unsaved but can't associate with the saved who are practicing sin. Doesn't that seem odd? Yes, yes, I can see that it does. Still, is it up for a vote? Did God suggest it or command it? Of course, where the rubber really meets the road is when you drag this theoretical down to the practical. It's all well and good to say, "Don't associate with people who claim to be Christians while willfully indulging in sin", but what if it is your best friend, your brother, your wife or husband?

You see, I don't have all the answers. I don't really understand fully how this works. I don't know what to do with it when it is someone as close as the family who lives in your home. I don't know how you handle, say, a family reunion and it is a relative of whom we are speaking. I don't know how to handle every instance. I do see that it says it. I do see that it isn't a suggestion; it is a command. And I do see that it is part of a process that doesn't simply start with "I'm not associating with you anymore." Maybe we should just start with that and see where it goes?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I'm putting down four of the "five points of Calvinism" here, using only Scripture without argument or explanation. See if you can see it.

What is the natural condition of Man?

And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21).

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:5-8).

"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).

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience -- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph 2:1-3).

The natural Man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).

Then how can we come to faith?

But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:64-65).

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Phil 1:29).

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

"You did not choose me, but I chose you" (John 15:16).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:3-4).

"I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen" (John 13:18).

Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain (Rev 13:7-8).

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (Eph 1:11-12).

"For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt 22:14)

"While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them." Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him (John 12:36-41).

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad -- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls -- she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom 9:10-13)

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Rom 9:18).

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation (Jude 1:4).

Why did Jesus die? What was His intent?

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep" (Joh 10:14-15).

"I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours" (John 17:9).

Can we be sure that all He chooses will be saved?

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out" (John 6:35-36).

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom 8:29-30).

It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13).

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.(Heb 13:20-21).

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psa 115:3).

Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps (Psa 135:6).

"My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose" (Isa 46:10).

"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why Go To Church?

Why do we go to church? Have you ever asked yourself that? I know I have. When I was a younger Christian, I was quite sure that it was an institutional thing. I didn't see it as some sort of evil (like too many disaffected folks do these days), but I thought it was more of ... an unnecessary good. It wasn't a command, to be sure. You could be just as a good of a Christian without it -- of that I was sure.

Maybe it's the product of years. You know, "Wisdom comes with age" ... that kind of thing. Maybe it's the product of too much experience of my own misguided ideas. You know, "We learn from our mistakes" ... that kind of thing. Maybe it is a product of not allowing my personal preferences cloud my understanding the Bible. Whatever it is, I don't see it that way anymore. Amid an ever-growing number of Christians who are moving away from attending a local church, I am becoming more certain that it is biblically recommended ... nay, commanded.

So, why go to church? There are a variety of reasons, good ones. Some recommend church attendance. Some command it. I'll do the commands first.

The first, foremost, and most obvious command to assemble together with other believers locally ("church") is the command in Hebrews 10. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" is the unavoidable phrase (Heb. 10:25). The author of Hebrews even offers reasons for why. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering" (Heb. 10:23). "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb. 10:24). "Encouraging one another" (Heb. 10:25). This command to not forsake assembling together is predicated on the need for interaction between believers. If churches today understood this, it might radically change how they "do church", but their negligence does not provide an excuse to disobey the command.

That this is a command should be obvious in the examples we get from Scripture. The first church had this sort of method of attendance: "Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes" (Acts 2:46). It was their habit, you see, to gather. They met for the preaching of the Word, to share the Lord's Supper, and to give to ministry. Paul writes most of his epistles to churches, local gatherings of believers. Going to church wasn't odd or optional; it was the norm.

The second "command" isn't as direct, but neither is it ambivalent. Paul writes to both Timothy and Titus about, among other things, church polity. How do we "do church"? He explains the qualifications for elders and deacons. This isn't a direct command, but it is a command. If you are going to eliminate "church" as a local gathering of believers, an organization, then you would necessarily negate any need for elders or deacons. They are part of the structure that is "church". And they are, apparently, normative. (Paul didn't seem to be offering suggestions of what it might be like if some Christians who already are "the church" decided to gather together as a group. He seemed to be offering the instructions on how it ought to be.) The same is true for instructions in 1 Cor. 11 and 14, for instance. Paul gives instructions on how to "do church", a waste of time if church was intended to be some nebulous, entirely optional gathering of believers.

Beyond commands, however, there are really good reasons to go to church. I understand that in many places in our world today, it can be a bit discouraging, even daunting. Still, Jesus establishes His church, we are commanded to gather together, and church structure is explained, so it must be a good idea to do it, eh? So why, besides the commands, would we go to church?

On one hand, there is great personal gain in going to church. We need to hear the preaching of the Word. There is value in fellowship. It allows for accountability. It provides training. It offers support, prayer, insight, correction. It is an absolute part of Christianity. John writes, "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us" (1 John 1:3). Corporate worship plays a big part in the Scriptures and, consequently, in our lives. God Himself has put effort into meeting our needs in the church.
He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastor-teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph. 4:11-14).
On the other hand, we are needed. That's not often recognized. According to Paul, each one of us is gifted by the Spirit. Those gifts are largely exercised in the church. We are needed by other Christians to help them maintain stability when they are wavering, to be stirred by us to love and good works, to be encouraged. They need us to pray for them, to support them, to "lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet" (Heb. 12:12-13).

"It's a relationship, not a religion." You've heard it before. The truth is that it is both. Christianity is predicated on a vertical relationship between God and Man that produces a change in the horizontal relationships between believers. Fellowship is not optional; it is commanded. Church is not optional; it is necessary. Can you survive without church? I'm sure it is possible. Church does not confer salvation. If you were alone on a desert island, you could still pray, read, worship. But is survival the question? I would suggest that it's not optimum. When considering our relationship with Christ, I would think that "optimum" would be our aim. And, frankly, unless you're a shut in, why would you not want to reap the benefits and participate in giving to others of what God has given you? Perhaps the better question here is "Why would you not go to church?"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

God and Government

This appears to be about "politics" ... not my normal Sunday fare. Bear with me. It's not about politics.

We're in an election season. We're faced with a responsibility and choices. We have to decide who we think will best serve as leaders for our country. And, frankly, some of us are concerned. What happens if "the other guy" (whoever that might be for you) ends up in charge? The question for Christians is what does the Bible have to say about human government?

Oddly, the Bible is pretty quiet about government. Try as you might, you won't find anything that suggests that Christianity is tied to the Republican party. I know ... you thought for sure it did, but it's not in there. Nor does it suggest that the liberals are the party of the Christians. It doesn't say much at all. It does say that we would be better off if we had God in charge (1 Sam. 8:11-18). It does say that human government will put our boys in harm's way and take our money in taxes. It does say that we are to submit to government (Rom. 13:1-6).

The most common thing you'll find that the Bible has to say about government, however, should be very reassuring to believers. In Haggai, God assures His people that He will "overthrow the throne of kingdoms".
"I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother" (Haggai 2:21-22).
King Solomon said this about kings:
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will (Prov. 21:1).
And you remember Pharaoh. He was not what you would call a "good guy". He was in a line of oppressive rulers who subjugated Israel in slavery. He was not a "good leader". Yet, of him, Paul wrote:
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth" (Rom. 9:17).
Then there was the most heinous crime ever committed by humans in all of history. It was started by people, but carried out by government. Herod and Pilate worked together to put to death the absolutely innocent Son of God. Even then, the Bible says this:
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place (Act 4:26-28).
I cannot say why God does what He does. Sometimes it is judgment. Sometime it is blessing. Sometimes it is to teach something. I'm pretty sure (as in "absolutely") that He has all sorts of reasons for doing what He does. I am equally sure that they are good reasons. He can use good things to produce good results. He can use bad things to produce good results. We may never even figure out what the results are, but they will be good.

So when you contemplate where you are going to place your vote and consider all the ramifications, possibilities, and concerns, keep in the back of your mind that God is still in control. Whoever ends up in office and whatever the results appear to be, God is still in control. You (and I) need to vote your conscience. Your party may end up in office ... or not. God is still in control.

Oh, there is one more thing that the Bible tells Christians about government, something that we still need to continue regardless of who is in office:
I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim. 2:2).
Listen, while you're in church today, maybe you could ... do just that.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


There is a lot of conversation about experience and the presidential candidates. "Oh," one side cries, "Senator Obama doesn't have enough experience to be president." Joe Biden worried that the Oval Office was not the place for on-the-job training. Now it's Sarah Palin. She's not experienced enough to be VP. She hasn't met with foreign dignitaries. She hasn't commanded the military. "No, no," they answer back, "a governor has executive experience."

The more I think about it, the less I think that experience is at issue. Is experience really what we need in the office?

Imagine, for instance, that a person has many, many experiences in life with, say, bee stings. He has been stung multiple times. Maybe he survived a killer bee attack. Oh, he has experience with bees. So ... is that the one you want as a bee keeper? Maybe. Does his experience make him run from bees or have they taught him how to handle them?

More to the point, however, I have to wonder how really important experience is. Who, except a president, has had experience of being a president? Wouldn't that, then, disqualify anyone from being a president? No. What you want is people with character, someone who, when faced with something they haven't experienced before, will have an inner ability to go through it and do the right thing.

We have lots of "important" terms being thrown around. "Experience", "change", "principle", these things are offered as "important" things for us to consider. Both sides argue that the other candidate doesn't have the necessary experience. Both parties are "standing for change." A local guy running for Congress argues that his opponent "votes with the party 98% of the time" and promises, "Not me ... I'll vote my principles." Experience may be helpful at some point for some things, but I think I'm more concerned about someone with character and values that will sustain them when they're faced with the things they haven't experienced. And, really, do any of us who has never been a president know what a president experiences? America certainly wants change, but it matters what we change to, doesn't it? It is good, we would say, to stand on principles, but not if we aren't told what those principles are, is it? I'd like a little more information, please, on the character and direction of the people we're being asked to choose.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Bible Tells Me So

"The Bible says it; I believe it." It's the de facto position of serious Christians, isn't it? So why is it that we don't see it in others?

Listen to conversations between Christians with opposing views and it becomes immediately clear that they don't believe that. "You are ignoring the Scriptures and following the teachings of a man." Who that man is will vary. Calvin is a popular target. Maybe it's Augustine or maybe it's a contemporary teacher. The truth, however, is that both sides are generally based on the individual's understanding of Scripture. Pick a topic ... theonomy, paedobaptism (infant baptism), Reformed theology, and on and on. The truth is that both sides are generally based on the individual's understanding of Scripture.

I am quite sure that some of us are wrong some of the time. I'm equally sure that no one is likely right all of the time. And we will argue a point or two for reasons other than "the Bible tells me so", regardless of how much we reference Bible verses. Sometimes it is a pet idea. Sometimes we are defending our childhood teachings or our favorite pastors or ...ourselves. But even when we are reading our Bibles and coming to conclusions, no one is perfect.

Knowing, then, that most of us believe what we believe because it's what we understand what the Bible to say, and knowing that each of us can be wrong, it begs the question: Can't we dialogue about things without making it personal and mean? I know that when someone tells me, in essence, that I'm either too stupid to understand or too hard-hearted to change, I'm not likely to move. Can't we treat others in a discussion with gentleness and respect while we discuss biblical principles?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Best Laid Plans

We sometimes seem to adopt strategies that, if we thought about them, would be absolutely certain to fail. They seem, in fact, to be in exact opposition to what we are hoping to accomplish.

Take, as an example, the nagging wife. What is it that she is hoping to accomplish? The goal, of course, is to get the husband to do what she wants him to do. The approach is to emasculate him in every verbal way she knows in the hopes that he will step up and be a man. When it's laid out like that, I suppose, it becomes crystal clear. "Oh, that won't work." And it doesn't. Sometimes you can break a man and make him do what you want ... but that isn't stepping up and being a man. More often you will press the man until, at some point, he explodes. That's not a good thing. In no case, though, can I imagine a positive outcome. Still, wives nag as if it's a worthwhile strategy. It's not.

Wives, of course, are not the only ones guilty of bad strategies. Everyone wants to be loved. So why is it that so many times it seems that people make themselves as unlovable as possible in this quest? We put up walls to keep our distance ... you know ... so we don't get hurt, and then wonder, "Why isn't anyone close to me?" We take advantage of those closest to us and wonder, "Why do people keep moving away from me?" We are often so concerned about being liked that we pay very ... close ... constant ... attention ... to ourselves. "How do I look? How do I sound? What do they think of me? Am I doing something wrong?" Of course, a sole focus on "I" tends to put people off. So while our goal is to be loved, our approach puts people off. Odd ... that doesn't seem like a good strategy.

I suspect you'll find, if you look, that there are a lot of places that our strategies do not match our goals. They are, in fact, counter to them. Perhaps it would be a good idea if we went through life with our eyes open, examining things rather than running blindly and hoping we run into something good. The latter strategy is just as likely to get you hurt.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When We Disagree

Life is full of debate, differences of viewpoints that require that one person disagrees with another. That, of course, expands to one group disagreeing with another. For the most part, these debates may largely go unrecognized. That is, many people aren't arguing their point; they just hold their position.

These positions are in all areas of life. "This is what a mother should be." "That is what a father should do." "This is what marriage is." "This is what parenting ought to be." "This perspective on abortion is right." "No, this one is." "The economy needs that to happen." "If this doesn't occur, the nation will be in trouble." "If you elect (fill in your favorite candidate to hate or your favorite opposing political party), we'll all be miserable." "The Bible teaches this." "No, that." "No, nothing at all." "No, far more." "Calvin/the Pope/Arminius/My favorite teacher is right." "Nope!" "This is the right way to wash dishes." All areas of life.

You can likely pick up your favorite positions and you may even be able to defend them, whether it's how to tie a shoe, who to elect, or what the Bible says, but have you ever considered what you're saying behind the argumentation? Most of us don't think about this side. Let me use politics for a moment to explain, but when I'm done you can use it to look at whatever your pet position might be on your pet topic.

Obama is considered by many as the man who can unite us all. (Remember, I'm using this as an illustration. Don't read this as an attack/defense of Obama.) He has the right ideas, the right goals, the right plans. He can give us ... x, y, and z. (Fill in your favorite things you are expecting from Obama.) You know, however, that there are many who disagree. Many dislike the man. Many disdain his ideas. Many oppose his positions. Many, in fact, consider them dangerous. So, if you are an Obama supporter, here is what you are saying to all those who disagree. "I know you disagree ... but you're wrong. You're so wrong that we need to fight this out. You're wrong and I'm right and I am hoping to force my rightness on you by voting my man into the office."

Pick any political party, any viewpoint, any biblical interpretation ... it's all the same. "I'm right; you're wrong. If I can, I will force my view on you. If I can't, at least I will make my voice heard, hopefully over yours. You don't know what's best; I do. In fact, it would be best if you'd just sit down and shut up." (Note: My mom taught me to never say, "Shut up." That was for effect.)

We need to stand for what we believe. All of us do. You can't say, "Well, I guess I'm just too stupid to think about it." And some of these issues are far too important to simply say, "Well, whatever you want to believe ..." I'm not suggesting, "Why can't we all just get along?" And just because you are saying that someone is wrong and you are right doesn't mean that it's not true. Perhaps, though ... just maybe ... when you approach a discussion with someone with whom you disagree, it might be possible to keep in mind that when you disagree, you will be suggesting that your view is right and theirs is wrong and there is something wrong with them that prevents them from seeing what you, in your vast wisdom, have figured out. No, that wasn't what you intended (at least, I hope not), but if you see that it could be heard that way, you might be able to regulate your approach to take into account the other person. I might call it "courtesy" or "charity." The Bible might call it "love your neighbor." I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Where Religion Meets Relationship

I'm sure you've heard it (or said it) before. "It's not a religion; it's a relationship!" Now, let's be serious, folks. Say what you will, but religion is defined as "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency." In all fairness, Christianity is that. The truth, on the other hand, is that Christianity is set apart from other religions in that it is a relationship. A primary definition of a Christian, in fact, is to be known by God. (See, for instance, Gal. 4:9 and Matt. 7:23.) So where do religion and relationship collide?

Religion is the sterile term that consists of "a set of beliefs" -- doctrine. It is orthodoxy -- right thinking. Relationship, on the other hand, is dynamic. It isn't a simple set of beliefs. It is intimacy, harmony, a state of real time interaction. One is the right set of doctrines and the other is an active dependence.

One of my favorite movies is the original Muppet Movie from 1979. In one scene Kermit and Fozzie Bear look inside a church where a rock band is playing loud, peppy music. Fozzie says to Kermit, "They don't look like Presbyterians to me." We laugh. What is the punchline? What makes it funny? Well, we know that Presbyterians -- the orthodox in general -- are dour people. Some refer to it as "cold orthodoxy". While Pentecostals are rolling in the aisles, the ones with the most correct theology, it seems, are frowning at each other in church. It seems that you can have loose beliefs and be joyful or rigidly correct beliefs and be dismal. And this, dear friends, is a lie.

You see, James says we are to "count it all joy" when trials occur because we count on the sovereignty of God to make it work out. Paul assured us that "God causes all things to work together for good", so we have no need to worry about anything. The first three items on the list titled "fruit of the Spirit" are "love, joy, peace." Paul commanded ... repeatedly that we "rejoice". Further, read folks like Jonathan Edwards (best known for Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) and you'll find entire passages on Religious Affections, the reasons that we should "rejoice with joy unspeakable" (1 Peter 1:8).

Where does religion meet relationship? It's when you find orthodoxy and recognize that it cannot produce anything less than joy. In fact, I don't believe it is possible to have "cold orthodoxy". Orthodox Christianity maintains that God is sovereign and omnipotent and loving and good. How can that result in anything less than joy for the believer? Orthodoxy holds that death has no sting for us and that in Christ we are more than conquerors. How can that be dour?

If you believe that you are correct in your doctrine, but don't find it particularly compelling, perhaps you're practicing a religion. If you find that your religion doesn't bring you joy, it is entirely possible that it doesn't include a relationship with Christ. That religion may appear correct, but it isn't. If you suffer from sour religion, perhaps you're not paying attention. Perhaps you're missing that vital relationship.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Judge Not

There is a popular belief that we are not supposed to judge others. It's not accurate, of course, but we are called to be extremely cautious. In the famous Matt. 7 passage, we are warned, for instance, to look first to ourselves. You see, while we find it very easy to pick out the problems other people have (or seem to have), I'm not so sure how good we are at it.

Consider the topic of how we dress at church. Today, most people argue, "God doesn't care what we wear to church." I would urge them to reconsider. They would say, "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart." And, you know, there is no room to argue with that ... since it's a quote from the Bible. On the other hand, the Bible is full of warnings that say that an inward change ought to produce an outward change. Faith without works, for instance, is dead faith. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. So while I would agree fully that God looks on the heart, it is abundantly clear that we act on what we truly believe. Most people who argue against dressing nice for church do so because they want to make it more "casual", more "friendly", less "formal". They come from the perspective that says, "God is my buddy." They suffer from an overblown sense of "No sovereign" from America's Revolutionary War. But the repeated command in Scripture is not "Be best buds with God." It is "fear God." And when we approach Him lightly, well, it just isn't a wise thing to do.

So, if someone agrees with me, they'll look around at church on Sunday and shake their heads disapprovingly at the people who show up in less than ties and long dresses. That, of course, misses the point. How you dress isn't the point. What is in the heart is. If you're ready to start wagging your finger at folks because of how they're dressed, you missed the entire intent. And even if you convinced them they'd better wear nicer clothes to church, you haven't addressed the real problem -- a heart that misses the awesome majesty of God.

I really believe that a heart that knows God will want to wear their nice clothes to church. That may be their cleanest shirt and shorts if that's all they have available, and I wouldn't know it. But if they're dressing to make a statement to me, it's a lost cause and if they're dressing to conform, it's a pointless exercise. How we appear at church ought to be a matter of how our hearts respond to God and His presence. Our judgment of those around us cannot see the heart, so we don't get that opportunity to judge lightly here. So we need to be careful to look to ourselves and not others ... kind of like Jesus warned in Matt. 7.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Interacting with the Holy

Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Ask now the priests for a ruling: If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?" And the priests answered and said, "No" (Haggai 2:11-12).
If you take this out of context (you know ... kind of like I just did here), it makes very little sense. What in the world is God talking about here? God is speaking to Israel and using the Law that they all know to illustrate a common erroneous belief. Here's the belief: "If I spend time with the right people in the right places doing the right things I will be right." Oh, they'd likely never say it, but the thought, basically, is "If I spend time with the Holy, I will be holy."

Spending time doing holy things or thinking holy thoughts or being around holy people in holy places cannot confer holiness. Only One can actually confer holiness to the unholy, and that would be God Himself. Just ask those fellows from Matt. 7:15-23. Good deeds, even for the sake of God, does not give one the necessary relationship with Jesus. If you were counting on your good works and right associations, think again. I wouldn't want you to miss the chance to actually be made holy.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Simple Request

I've gone to church for a good part of my life. While it has always been Protestant (in other words, you can eliminate "Greek Orthodox" or "Roman Catholic"), it has been quite a variety. I've been in quite a range of church types. While there are obviously many differences, there has, it seems, been many similar things. Well, that would stand to reason, since the idea is that they're all basically in agreement. But I'm talking about things that they do in common that could easily be fixed. This, then, is my request to churches everywhere to take a look at these things and see if you can address them. It would be nice, you know?

Every Sunday service, it seems, has announcements. Call it what you will. "Greetings and announcements", "church family news", whatever. It is to be expected. You have to keep everyone apprised of what is going on. Fine. Good. But everyone who does them seems to think that this is an "addendum", a piece, in some sense, outside of "worship". "First," they seem to think, "we'll get these announcements out of the way, and then we can start worship." Why? Why is it that telling people that Olga Thornson is in the hospital and needs your prayers cannot be part of worship? Why is it that telling the church what God did in the camp for the high schoolers last week isn't part of worship? Why is it that telling the congregation about an upcoming ministry event isn't part of worship? Here's the bottom line here. If you make it "This is what we're doing", then you're absolutely right -- it isn't worship. On the other hand, it ought not be there. Church is about God. If you make it "This is what God is doing" then it is certainly worship and you ought to express it as such. My request? Either eliminate your announcements or make them part of worship.

Very often churches will have someone come up and "perform". Now, I hated to put that word in there because it's not the right word, but it was an all-encompassing "stand up in front of everyone and do something." They may pray. They may share a testimony. They may read a passage. That's all fine and good ... and I mean that it is fine and good. Here's all I ask. Would you who are asked to stand in front of everyone please be prepared? I'm not asking that you prepare a slick performance. I'm not asking that you fake anything. All I'm asking is that you prepare. If you are supposed to pray, be prepared to pray. If you are supposed to read, read it in advance. Perhaps you have no idea how disconcerting it is to have someone stumble about reading God's Word. Again, I'm not asking for a performance. But doesn't God's Word deserve a real reading? Doesn't it deserve voice inflections and a basic comprehension of the words that are being read? You should have practiced those tough-to-read Hebrew names before you got up in front of people. You should have had an understanding of the flow of the sentence you are now reading (badly) for everyone else. Again, I'm not talking about performance. I'm talking about being prepared enough not to be self-conscious. I'm talking about common courtesy. You're supposed to read this for us ... so be prepared to read it for us. And a carefully thought out or even written out or even practiced prayer is no less sincere than an impromptu, off-the-cuff prayer, so if you're not good at spur-of-the-moment ... don't!

Church has its own distractions and difficulties. God's Word is being presented here and Satan will be glad to disturb that. God is here and that might be a bit unnerving. We're in "mixed company", so to speak, where some are true believers and some are ... not. We don't need the added distractions of self-centered announcements or self-conscious additions. Remember that we're going to worship, to the presence of God. Prepare for that out of respect for Him and for His people. Please?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Separated by a Common Language

We in the English-speaking world are finding it ever harder to communicate. The English language is a living language and, as such, always evolving. The term, "boy", for instance, used to mean "a male" (as opposed to "girl") or "a young male" (as opposed to "man"). Later it became a rude reference to a male servant which evolved into ... a racial epithet. Now, wait ... how did we get from "my young son" to "a rude comment about people of another race"? English is so difficult.

So many words in English have so many definitions that they require context to define them. "Invalid" cannot be defined on its own. You have to know if it is a reference to person who is an invalid -- someone who is disabled in some way -- or an invalid idea -- an idea that that has no validity. Certainly an invalid has validity, so there isn't even some remote connection. English is so difficult. (Actually, there is a connection. The root for "valid" references "strength", and the prefix "in" negates it, so "invalid" originally referenced "weakness". In this case, an invalid would be someone with weakness and an invalid idea would be a weak idea. See? Evolving.)

Some words are harder to define than we realize. "Love", for instance, is in everyone's vocabulary, but what you mean by "love" and what I mean by "love" may not be the same thing. And we already know that. We don't love pizza in the same way we love our kids, and we don't love our kids in the same way we love our spouses. We know that. Then there is the biblical term which often refers to a choice, something not quite connected to the warm feeling of affection that most people use to define "love".

How about the word "play"? Surely we all know what that means. You would think so, but the first dictionary I looked at listed 62 definitions before it got to combinations like "play along" and "play around". It could mean a dramatic performance or some activity for amusement or a pun (a "play on words"). It could be a specific action ("fair play") or a brisk motion ("the light played on the water") or room in a mechanism to move ("Those cogs have too much play."). Then there is the elusive concept of what parents used to tell their kids: "Go out and play." Now, what did that mean? They knew it was some sort of amusement or recreation, but the real intent was "Don't sit here and watch TV" which was amusement on its own, so it was a special and yet undefined concept.

There are special words in special corners of the world with special meaning. Each branch of science, it seems, has its own language. Physics uses different words than physicians. Electronics engineers use different words than electricians. You can only imagine what it's like where I work when bioscience types try to interact with engineering types and software types. There is a real language barrier there. Then there are the words that are common ... but not. "Justification", for instance, would simply be the reasons offered that justify one's actions ... unless you're talking to a Christian ... especially a Reformed Christian. Now we're talking "the means by which God makes humans free from the penalty of sin and right in His eyes." Wow! That's a longer definition, but it is limited to that particular realm of Christianity.

One word that is common but confusing is "legalism". Oh, we all know what it means ... we just don't all mean the same thing by it. One person will use it to refer to any strict adherence to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. Another person will use it just because they felt you were being judgmental. A specific use will reference the concept of salvation by works. So when you hear, "Don't be so legalistic", you're left trying to figure out which one was meant ... or if it has evolved again and there is something else entirely in mind.

We often assume that we are speaking the same language. We are all, after all, speaking English. We ought to get in the practice of keeping in mind that English is a living, evolving language and not assuming that people are defining terms the same way we are. If you hear something that offends you, check to see if they intended it before you take the offense. If you could possibly be misunderstood, make sure you define your terms carefully, not succumbing to laziness. And I say all this largely toward myself. I have a clear idea of what I'm saying. So why is it that people often don't seem to understand me? Too often we are two people separated by a common language.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In Memory

To honor those who died on September 11, 2001, I am observing a "day of silence". I won't be publishing a post tomorrow. I will return on Friday.

Cult of Personality

You've likely heard the term "cult of personality". No, I'm not referring to the song by Living Colour. (In fact, I suspect that a lot of my readers have heard the term, but not the song.) The term refers specifically to a political leader's attempt to use the mass media to create a heroic image. In general, it refers to the following that certain public characters receive by virtue of their public image. It is easy, for instance, to see the cult of personality -- the almost mindless following -- that follows Senator Obama. (Note: Here and for the rest of this post, those who respect a certain personality are not all necessarily part of a "cult of personality". Admiring or quoting a person does not necessarily qualify you as "mindless" or part of a "cult".) There are people that are just enamored with him. They see him as Messiah. You could ask them his positions on various issues and they likely wouldn't know. He's just ... "cool" in some sense.

Nor do I mean to imply that these personalities are "evil" in some sense. It's not necessarily the personalities who are at fault. It's not that they're necessarily bad or presenting bad information. Some are. Hitler and Stalin used this technique to bolster their totalitarian rule. But John F. Kennedy had a cult-like following as well. It seems like when Bono (of U2) speaks, people listen, not because he's an expert on whatever it is he's talking about, but because, well, he's Bono. "A cult of personality." Hollywood and the music industries seem to carry quite a bit of this with them, perhaps because they are the mass media.

No one is immune from this, it seems. Even Christians can fall prey to the cult of personality. While "Calvinism" is not actually a product of Calvin, but a particular understanding of Scripture, many Calvinists end up seeing John Calvin's writings as Scripture. They'll offer up his commentaries or his Institutes of Christian Religion as "prooftext". "If Calvin believed it, it's good enough for me." But it's not merely Calvinists. Lots of people have their guy (or gal). For some it's MacArthur or Sproul or Spurgeon. For others it may be Charles Stanley or Joel Olsteen or Charles Finney. Todd Bentley enjoyed a deep cult following over the last year or so with the so-called "Lakeland Revival". These followings are different from respecting a particular author or speaker. If they speak, their followers listen without examination. These followers are marked by blind devotion. If you question the person, the followers don't examine the question; they lash out at the questioner. "How dare you assault the Lord's Anointed??!!"

Please note: Christianity is not based on a cult of personality. It is based on the Bible that reveals the singular focus of Christianity -- Christ. If you find yourself in strong reaction because someone disagrees with an author or speaker you like, please check yourself first. The Bible, we hold, is inerrant. Anyone else is ... wrong at times. There are some really great names out there: Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Tozer, Adrian Rogers, Spurgeon, Ironside, Hudson Taylor, Tyndale, Ryrie, Scofield, Wesley, C.S. Lewis -- lots and lots of names. If some of those are your touchstones, your validation of what you believe, beware. Christians are not to operate in the realm of the cult of personality. We are to be followers of the Word as expressed in Christ and explained in the Bible. Anything else puts you on dangerous ground.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

More on Women in Charge

The most basic argument in this discussion is that "man is the head of woman" (1 Cor. 11:3). The first thing you will think is "all men rule over all women". Really? Seriously??! No, that's not right. They don't actually believe that. So they clarify (although there is no such clarification in the text itself) You have to assume that "man" and "woman" in that verse in 1 Cor. 11 refers to "husband and wife" generally, or you have to assume that "woman" is under "a man" of some sort. Women are either under their husbands, under their fathers, or under the church elders.

Let's see how that works out. A woman grows up (under her father) and then is married (under her husband). He runs a thriving restaurant business. Years later, her father dies and, shortly thereafter, her husband dies. After a period of mourning, she ... what? She has no father or husband to be under. The argument might well be that she is under the leadership of the church. Okay, fine. So ... who runs the business? Who runs her household? Can she not hire and fire? Can she not have help in her home? Does she need to turn the business and the accompanying accumulated wealth that her husband left her over to the church? Is that really the argument?

In Acts 16 we are introduced to Lydia, a "seller of purple". Apparently she was quite successful. There is no mention of someone else in charge, no reference to a husband, and no suggestion that she get right by putting her business under her husband, father, church, or any other male leadership. Then there is the famous example of Deborah. "She was a judge, not a magistrate!" Dismiss it if you will, but the biblical account isn't unclear. Deborah had a husband and children. The Bible says without apology, "Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging* Israel at that time" (Judges 4:4). No hint of negative. When she received "marching orders" from God, she summoned a man -- Barak. She told him that God had commanded him to gather an army and go against General Sisera (Judg. 4:6-7). Barak agreed ... on condition that she accompany him. She did, but it cost Barak the credit. "I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman" (Judg. 4:9). At the end of the story, Jael, the wife of Heber, killed Sisera and was the heroine of the story. Barak didn't get the glory because he didn't follow the instructions given by God to Deborah for Barak. If women are not allowed to be in civil leadership at all, that whole thing is just plain wrong ... starting with God.

Say what you will, the Bible includes more than one reference to women who operate, apparently correctly, in leadership roles. In fact, Jesus commends the Queen of Sheba for her wisdom in seeking out Solomon and says that she declares judgment on Israel for their lack of it (Matt. 12:42). It may be uncommon, but it is not unheard of. To argue that it is unbiblical when it was God who operated with Deborah as judge is really anti-biblical. To argue that Lydia was wrong when the Bible doesn't is really a stretch. To suggest that women ought never be in roles of civil authority is to suggest that Jesus was unwise in His reference to the Queen of Sheba.

Consider, then, Isaiah 3:12. "My people--infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths." "There," it is claimed, "'women rule over them', and it is not good." First, this doesn't make a command. It doesn't say, "Women should not rule." It says that whoever was leading them was misleading them. Second, it is problematic to argue that the passage is actually intended to be literal. Why would I say that? Well, we can certainly understand a literal reading of "women rule over them", but what, exactly does it mean by "infants are their oppressors"? A literal reading of this passage would demand that Israel, at the time of this writing, was ruled by women and children. There is no record anywhere of women and children ruling Israel, so what is going on? Could it possibly be that the males who were leading the country were childish and effeminate? Could it be that this was what was in mind here? I can only conclude that the language here was not intended as literal -- as often prophetic language is not -- and it would be very unwise to view this as doctrinal.

I can't seem to pull out a doctrine that requires that women must never be in a role of civil authority from the Scriptures. Others can. You decide.


* Some will make an issue of "judge" here. "It doesn't mean 'magistrate'. It means 'judge' as in 'passing judgment, dispensing justice', that sort of thing." However the word is considered as a reference to "govern" as well as "judge" according to Strong's. Britannica says, "The Hebrew term shofet, which is translated into English as 'judge,' is closer in meaning to 'ruler'." Easton's Bible Dictionary says, "properly a magistrate or ruler, rather than one who judges in the sense of trying a cause." Adam Clark calls Deborah "the first instance of gynaecocrasy, or female government." Before Israel had kings, the government was a theocracy with "judges" serving as the go-between -- the magistrates. Samuel was the last of these judges ... and a prophet. Mitigate "judge" if you will, but it appears that the Hebrew word and the text call for "magistrate" as much as "dispenser of justice."

Crescent of What?

Have you seen this? I'm dumbfounded. I don't get it. Who is it that is thinking, "This is a good idea"? I mean, why is it so quietly carried out without objection?

I never saw this. It's the first I'm hearing about it. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. But architect Paul Murdoch has designed (and the design was approved) a memorial for Flight 93 from September 11. The memorial is the "Crescent of Embrace". It is in the shape of the standard symbol of Islam -- the crescent. And it is oriented toward Mecca. It is, then, a memorial for the brave al-Qaeda martyrs that died there, not the brave Americans who stopped them.

I likely need to research this further, but apparently this controversy is old -- since 2005. Still, nothing has changed. Is there something that we can/should do about it? Is anyone else disturbed by this?

Monday, September 08, 2008

This is a Public Announcement

I wouldn't normally do this, but it has become necessary, I think, as a public service to my readers. It could be that some of you are considering this service, and I think I ought to share our experience with them to give you a clearer picture of what to expect.

The company is called Hi-Energy Weight Control. They are being advertised here in Arizona, but they're also in Georgia and South Carolina. Their meals come from a company called Medifast. They are, as should be obvious, a weight loss company. They make remarkable claims in their advertisements and on their website. On the radio they "guarantee weight loss of 3 pounds a week." Their website is more "rational", promising "2-5 pounds per week."

So what has this to do with me? My wife joined up back in January. Now, this isn't a program that I could tolerate. I mean, seriously, who actually enjoys a meal plan called "Medifast"? Everything is carefully monitored. Everything is closely watched. So I wasn't joining up, but my wife seems to love it. Oh, sure, occasionally she wants something she can't have, but she genuinely likes this stuff.

So ... what's the problem? Well, they guarantee 3 pounds a week -- 2 pounds minimum. While my wife has lost a healthy amount of weight and while she is happy about it and while she is enjoying the program and all ... she has averaged considerably less than 2 pounds a week. Contrary to popular opinion, "considerably less than 2 pounds" is not more than 2 pounds, let alone 3, so they are not meeting their promised amount.

I like to think that companies want to do what's right, so the first thing I did was to contact the company. "Look," I told them, "my wife loves your program, so I'm only complaining quietly, but I'm concerned because you're not meeting your guarantee." I even gave them some options. "Maybe you want to change your guarantee. Just drop the 'we promise you can lose x' and I would have nothing to complain about. Or, if you think you can actually meet your guaranteed amount, maybe you ought to be working with my wife to explain why she isn't losing what you promise." You see, I can see how this works. They have a target for her to reach. Once she reaches that target, they modify her diet until she's eating "regular meals". Nice plan ... if it worked. As it is, she didn't meet her target when they planned she would based on their promised weight loss. That means she has to continue to pay for more expensive food that they provide. That equates, in my view, to theft. They didn't give what they promised and we continue to pay because of it. That's what I told them.

It took a few tries (as it seems is the case in most businesses these days), but I finally got a response. A vice president assured me he was looking into it. An administrator checked with me for more information. Finally, the local group contacted me. They understood my concern. They would work with my wife to get her on track. Rest assured, things would be made right. See? Companies want to do what's right.

So here we are a month later. My wife, in the six weeks that have followed, has lost ... 5 pounds. That's 5 pounds the first week after my complaints and nothing since. "Honey," I ask, "are they offering any explanations? Are they making any suggestions? Are they telling you what needs to change?" No. Sadly, "Don't worry ... we'll make it right" simply meant "maybe if we pat him on the head and say nice things he'll go away."

So here, as my service to my readers, I am letting you know to beware. The advertisements sound impressive. The guarantees sound impressive. Unlike other companies whose fine print always disclaims "results are not typical" while people are telling you how much weight they lost on the program, this company sounds real. And, in all honesty, my wife likes it. So it looks like something different. I just want to warn you to beware. Don't anticipate that they will keep their promise because despite their "guaranteed weight loss", they don't actually come through for everyone. Don't expect them to be a reliable company. You may lose weight. You may even like it. I just wanted to say that, if you are considering the program, remember, "Buyer beware."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Why Did Jesus Heal?

Read through the Gospels and you'll find story after story of Jesus healing people. It seems as if He healed people wherever He went. Why did He do that?

You might say, "It's because He loved them." Not in the way you are thinking. "It was because He wanted their best." Again, not in the way you are thinking. "It's what a good God does." Not ... at all. (Think about it. God is good ... and lots of people, even people of faith, are not healed.) Despite the claim by many "health and wealth" teachers, He didn't do it because people are supposed to be healed. No, we tend to miss the real reason for why Jesus healed people.

We aren't left to indulge in conjecture. We are given the reason for Jesus's healings. In Mark 2, a paralytic is dropped into the house where Jesus was teaching. His first reaction was not to heal the man. His first reaction was to take care of his real problem. "Son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5). This, of course, stirred a reaction among His listeners and Jesus knew it. So He gave them proof that He could forgive sins. He healed the man (Mark 2:8-12).

The answer to why Jesus healed is the same as the answer to why Jesus came. "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). That was why He came. He didn't come to be nice. He didn't come to heal. He didn't even come to persuade. He came to save. The purpose of His healings, of all His miracles, was to demonstrate that He had the capacity to save. John, in fact, refers to Jesus's miracles as "signs" (John 2:11, 23; 3:2; 6:2; 9:16, etc.).

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He needed to prove that there was fundamentally something different about Him. He did that with abundant miracles. In other words, because He loved us and because He wanted our best -- our salvation -- He healed to demonstrate the really important part: "That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (Mark 2:10).

Saturday, September 06, 2008

They Dost Protest Too Much

When the Democrats met in Denver for their National Convention, the word was that protesters would not be allowed near the venues. I don't remember seeing protesters in the convention itself. There were reports of some clashes with demonstrators a mile from the convention center, and the police say they arrested less than 10 people for failing to disperse. Ron Kovic, the disabled Vietnam veteran about whom the movie Born on the Fourth of July was made, took part in a peaceful protest. When he heard about the clash between police and protesters, he told the crowd, "We must remain nonviolent. We must have the high moral ground."

Fast forward to the Republican National Convention. It was common to see people inside the Xcel Energy Center planning to disrupt for their cause. Outside, the clashes with police were so close that the microphones in the convention could pick up the flashbangs being used outside. Anti-war, peace activists attacked delegates from Connecticut with bleach sprayed on their clothes and faces. Others broke windows of stores or lit a trashcan on fire and pushed it into a police car.

How sad. When protesters at the DNC acted incorrectly, people with the protesters called on them to behave. When "peace" protesters at the RNC produced violent "statements", there wasn't a word from their side that said they shouldn't have. It tells me something.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Theonomists Against Palin

There are those who tout themselves as "biblically minded" (suggesting that if you disagree, you're not) and argue that the Bible does not allow women to be civil magistrates. (Note to anyone that visits that site and wants to comment: Expect that if you are respectful and explain from Scripture a differing opinion, you will not be allowed to comment. Opposing remarks are not allowed.) The argument comes from theonomists, Christians who argue that the civil governments of the world ought to be theocracies. Now, before you jump on it, I don't mean that they believe that the Church should run the State. They believe these should be distinct. They just believe that the government ought to be run by biblical rules.

These folks appeal to several passages to prove the point. They refer to the biblical requirement that churches have male leadership. They refer to the 1 Timothy 2 passage where Paul does not allow a woman to teach men. They point to Paul's first epistle to the church at Corinth: "I would have you to know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor. 11:3). In Exodus 18:21, Moses's father-in-law, Jethro, told Moses that he needed to share the load of leading Israel. He told Moses, "Look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens." You see? "Able men." And, oh, how they enjoy pointing to Isaiah 3:12. "My people -- infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths." And if you bring up the biblical judge, Deborah, they brush it off as irrelevant.

I addressed this topic back in January when I first heard it about Hillary, and now it is aimed at Sarah Palin. I referenced only the 1 Timothy 2 passage. Others have addressed the other passages like Exodus 18:21 and Isaiah 3:12. There are responses to these positions. I'm not planning to address these issues here.

What I can't figure out is who it is that actually argues that the civil governments of the world ought to meet biblical standards. Consider 1 Tim. 3:1-7. These are the requirements for elders in the church. (More are found in Titus 1.) If we are going to require civil governments to meet biblical standards, then it is mandatory that every person for which we vote meets these requirements. Imagine that! That would require some interesting qualifications. They would have to be married, specifically "the husband of one wife". They would have to be able to teach. They would have to manage their households well and have submissive children. Here's an interesting one -- they could not be new converts. In other words, every qualified candidate for office would mandatorily have to be a solid, mature Christian. In Titus it says, "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (Titus 1:9). If we are to conclude that the commands to the leadership of the Church are the same commands that must be met by the leadership of governments, these are some of the requirements.

Interestingly, these same people, arguing that civil leadership must meet biblical requirements, sometimes suggest that no one actually meets the qualifications that God has placed on church leadership. Now, if it is impossible (or, at least, very nearly) to find people in the church who match up to the leadership requirements for the church, what are the possibilities that you'll find people who run for office in government that meet these qualifications? And, if they do not, on what possible basis could you vote for them? Wouldn't that be outright sin, a direct violation of God's command?

It's an interesting argument that civil government should align with God's commands for governing His people. I don't really buy it, but it is interesting. It seems to me, however, that if you actually want to make that argument, you'd have to secede from the Union.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Political Science

There is an invention that came out, apparently, in 2004 of which I wasn't aware. It's a machine, of sorts. It is a unique machine, used in politics by only one side. Google "Republican Attack Machine" and you'll find story after story on this incredibly vicious and quite effective device that the Republican party designed and built. I couldn't find any pictures of the thing, but it must be awesome even thought it's quite secretive. I say it's secretive because you cannot find anything about a "Democratic Attack Machine". Apparently they don't know who made the one that the Republicans use, they don't know how to make one of their own, and they can't seem to find anywhere to buy one.

Perhaps it's the clever way in which the Republicans disguise the thing. You see, they have "the Republican Attack Machine" and "the GOP Attack Machine" and "the Right Wing Attack Machine." So ... which is it? Not all Republicans are right wing. Not all right wingers attack. So there is apparently some deception in the use of terminology that misleads the Democrats.

Perhaps it's just that the Democrats don't want it. You know ... they're a loving group with no intention of making any negative remarks about anyone ever. I mean, look at Loving ... simply loving. No unkind remarks. No mean things to say. It's clearly not Democrats who call McCain "McSame" and the like because that would be mean. When John Edwards accused George Bush of engaging in a covert political plot to produce the Iraq War, that was meant entirely in kindness. When Al Gore accused the President of "utter incompetence", it was meant as a friend. Those blogs that reference the Republicans in terms that I don't use in polite company are certainly intending it as helpful suggestions.

Or maybe ... just maybe there is a Democratic Attack Machine similar to (can you say "just the same as") the so-called "Republican Attack Machine" and the media just doesn't like to admit it. Hmmm ... I suppose that could be a possibility.

(Note: If there is any doubt that there is a "Democratic Attack Machine", just look at what the media has done with Sarah Palin. They manufactured lies. (Rumors were constructed on the Internet that Palin faked her most recent pregnancy to cover up for her daughter and that Trig is actually her grandchild. It has been demonstrated to be false.) The press has almost universally presented her in a negative light. On the other side, how many of you have heard that the military officially handed over the Anbar Province to Iraqi control? Remember Anbar? It was the staging ground for al-Qaeda, with Fallujah as a primary city. It was considered by many to be impossible to win there. It is now officially peaceable enough to hand over completely to Iraqi control. Why is it that we haven't heard this on the news?)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Politics with a Twist

Here it is ... proof that there is nothing we can do to make everyone happy. By "we" I mean "any political party anywhere." The Republicans complained that Obama wasn't ready to lead. Despite all the assurances to the contrary, they held that he just wasn't ready. So, he chose Joe Biden as his running mate. Who is more experienced than Joe? Not good enough.

McCain, on the other hand, is "the same as Bush" to the Democrats and "not conservative enough" to the right. McCain represented a danger to the left by being "pro-life" and a danger to the right by being "pro-experiment-on-embryos". So he appoints Sarah Palin, a "not-Bush" conservative. Now it's Governor Palin who lacks the experience. Worse, she chose not to abort a Down Syndrome baby. To the pro-abortion crowd, this is unacceptable. She has a 17-year-old daughter that is a problem for some reason to both the extreme right and the left. She sees the pregnancy as a blessing (as opposed to Obama who called such a pregnancy "punishment"). And she's a mother, obviously a bad qualification for a Vice President according to many.

As a side note, does anyone remember Deborah? She was the prophetess-who-became-judge in Judges 4, an interesting example of a female as a civil leader (for those of you who argue that God never allows women to be civil leaders). Has anyone noticed the name of the guy she was leader over? (Hint: It's the first name of McCain's opponent.)

Governor Palin is a Vice Presidential candidate, not the presidential candidate. She won't determine for me whether or not to vote for McCain any more than Joe Biden will determine whether or not I vote for Obama. For whom I will vote, in fact, isn't my point. The point is that when you have a two-party system, it seems mandatory that "the other guy is wrong" regardless of what the other party is saying or doing. This is a step beyond "business as usual" for so many who say in essence, "We can get along ... as long as you agree with me." In this political realm, we can only get along if you are me.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Contend for the Faith

I read the book of Jude the other day. It is only one chapter and it is a very interesting read.

The book focuses on a select group of people. Jude tells his readers, "I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). That's the focus -- "contend for the faith" -- because of this select group of people. Jude's first description is ... well ... unnerving.
Certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 1:4).
It's unnerving to most because it speaks of "designated for condemnation" and includes the descriptive "long ago". Literally, in fact, it says "from before time". The suggestion is that these people about whom Jude is warning his readers were ... well ... predestined for condemnation. Okay, unpleasant, but that's what it says.

Moving on from that unpleasantness, Jude has much to say about these folks. We've already seen that they "pervert the grace of our God into sensuality" and "deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." But there is more -- a lot more. It's a short read. Look at some of the other descriptions. "In like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones" (Jude 1:8). "In like manner" to what? Just like the children of Israel who came out of Egypt but were destroyed because they failed to believe (Jude 1:5). Just like the angels who fell (Jude 1:6). Just like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who "indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire" (Jude 1:7). (On a side note, if Sodom and Gomorrah were judged because of their lack of hospitality, what in the world is Jude talking about?) He says more. "These people blaspheme all that they do not understand" (Jude 1:10). He uses some colorful language: These are "shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted" (Jude 1:12). Then he lapses into less colorful, more blatant language: "These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage" (Jude 1:16), and "It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit" (Jude 1:19).

I am quite sure that most God-fearing Christians, people who read the Bible and believe it, can recognize folks who fall in this category. It seems that today we are inundated with them. They enjoy popular positions in well-known churches and public podiums from which to share their message with the world. Like the description says, they present themselves as one of us (like the Israelites who didn't believe). They appear to be "clouds" offering refreshment or "trees" offering nourishment although they are, in fact, waterless clouds and fruitless trees. They are marked by deviation from orthodoxy rather than affirmation of the faith. They assault the faithful and applaud the sinful.

About these Jude says they are "devoid of the Spirit", "long ago designated for condemnation", "perverting grace into sensuality". Because of these Jude warns we must "contend for the faith." What does Jude say to do?
Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 1:21-23).
First, look to yourselves. Love is the command, predicated on the recognition that we, too, are sinners in need of mercy. Then, have mercy on doubters. Not all who struggle fall in this category of evil. Work to turn others from sin, even if it means "snatching them out of the fire". In some cases, show mercy but, frankly, be afraid. Some are so stained that their very "clothing" is stained. Don't even pick up their trappings.

I could name names and I could call to action about individuals, but I don't think I need to do more than Jude already did. You who do have the Spirit, contend for the faith. Ground yourselves in love. Show mercy. Save who you can. Recognize that God has determined that some will never repent. And be careful about picking up the terms and trappings of those who "deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." To these, show mercy with fear. Ultimately, trust in Him "who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy" (Jude 1:24). This is Jude's calling on "those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:1).

Monday, September 01, 2008

Biblical Dating

There is much discussion (almost exclusively in the realm of the skeptic, not the believer) about the dating of the books of the Bible. Okay, to be fair, it's only the New Testament that anyone really cares about. You see, if they can demonstrate (or at least strongly suggest) that the Bible wasn't written until much later, they can cast doubt on its authenticity.

So they argue, for instance, that the Gospel of Mark (viewed by most as the earliest Gospel) was written after 70 AD. Do you know why? "Well," they argue, "Mark gives details about the destruction of the Temple. He couldn't know that if it hadn't happened. Therefore, he had to write it after it happened." Do you hear that? Mark quotes Jesus in Mark 13:2 as saying, "There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." The assumption, then, is that Mark is ... lying. There it is -- proof that Mark wasn't written before 70 AD.

There are valid reasons to ask the questions about dating the New Testament. 1) Is it reliable? All those epistles, for instance, with Paul's name on them ... if they were written after Paul was dead, that would be a problem for the question of reliability, wouldn't it? 2) What conclusions do we draw? John's The Revelation of Jesus Christ, for instance, has been dated by many in the area of 90-100 AD. The entire pre-millenial eschatology is premised on this date. You see, if the Temple was already destroyed (70 AD) and John is measuring the Temple, it must be a Temple that didn't exist when he wrote the book but would exist in the end times. Of course, if The Revelation was written before 70 AD, then the Temple he was referencing would be the existing Temple (in his day) and the fulfillment of much of that prophecy would have already occurred. So the questions about dating are reasonable to ask.

Unfortunately, most people don't worry about coming to a rational conclusion. Generally speaking, they want to come to a conclusion that will support their view. "The Bible isn't reliable. Therefore, the dates are likely in the 3rd or 4th century." Of course, the premise drives the conclusion rather than the other way around. "No, no, I'm a Preterist, so the Bible was written before 70 AD." Again, the premise drives the conclusion. Finding actual reasons to conclude one way or another without the intent getting in the way is a lot harder than it appears.

There are those who have argued, from the evidence, that the New Testament was completed before 70 AD. One of the key reasons that they conclude this, apart from preference, is that no one in the New Testament mentions the catastrophic destruction of the Temple ... except, of course, those quoting the prediction of that destruction. Irenaeus of Lyons (185 AD) said that the Gospels were written when Paul was preaching in Rome, placing them before 65 AD. Luke, it appears, wrote his gospel before he wrote Acts, and he was with Paul. (This, of course, would push Mark's gospel farther back if Luke got some of his information from Mark.) Norman Geisler quotes William F. Albright (a former liberal scholar) as saying, "We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80." You see, the outcome of this dating gives us one more important point. It puts the entire New Testament in the Eyewitness period. That is, these books were circulating when people were still alive who could say, "Wait a minute! I was there! That didn't happen." In fact, isn't that what Paul suggests (1 Cor. 15:6)?