Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 In Review

This last year has been another fun blog for me. Of course, that may have been all it was -- fun for me -- but I hope some of you enjoyed it and, better yet, benefited from it.

I had a couple of personal plans I hoped to satisfy in the last year. As far as I can tell, I met my goal of at least one blog a day. I can't find any days I missed. I kept Sundays as an entry intended to inspire worship. I hope that was of use to some of you. And I tried to maintain an atmosphere of discussion and dialog rather than acrimony and assault. I think I did that, too. And I blogged about a couple of personal events. I told you about my father on Father's Day. I took you to my son's graduation in May and his wedding in June. I included a tribute to my mother-in-law who passed away in October. I tend to leave personal stuff out most of the time, but you got these little glimpses.

I had several entries on a subject near and dear to my heart. Reformed Theology is a valuable topic to me. I had 20 articles on that subject specifically. Of course, it came up more than 20 times in the year. A few that I thought stood out included a piece entitled Princess Bride Theology, comparing the "mostly dead" of that movie with the "mostly dead" of Arminian's "dead in sin." In another entry I talked about an error that we too often assume is true, that we choose to believe. We don't. One of the more fun articles on the subject (fun to me) was inspired by a paper my son wrote in college. I took it further and shared it with my readers. I called it St. John, the Calvinist, where I drew all the five points linked with Reformed Theology straight from the Gospel of John. And in TULI, I answered the basic questions that lead me to be a Calvinist not from Calvin or some other writer, but purely and simply from Scripture. (I left off "P" because it's not as hotly contested.)

I like Apologetics, but, frankly, I didn't do a whole lot on that topic this year. Well, not a whole lot specifically. I had four dedicated articles on the topic. I think it's of value, but also think that its primary value is to believers, to bolster their faith. Unbelievers are not going to be swayed by arguments, no matter how well stated they are or how valid they are. I still favor them; I just don't rely on them.

I had some 13 entries specifically aimed at humor. I'm not sure that's an accurate representation. I see humor in a lot of places. Sometimes I aim at it. Sometimes I just see it.

Of course, perhaps my two biggest topics this past year were obvious. First, there was politics. I mean, it was an election year. What would you expect? I didn't endorse any candidates. I didn't find one I could. I did bring up some serious concerns about Senator Obama. There was the issue of the pastor he was under for 20 years. There was my concern about exactly what the change was that he would bring. I was and continue to be concerned about the approach of "rob from the rich" that prevails. I find it hard to distinguish from socialism. And I am still concerned about his pro-abortion stand. Thankfully, I dropped the political discussion right after the election. The problem is in God's hands now.

I went to a couple of conferences this year and did some blogging of both. The first was in Orlando, Florida. The topic was Evangelism According to Jesus. I did summary entries for Thursday, Friday morning, Friday afternoon, and Saturday. In September I went to another Ligonier conference, this time here in Arizona. I did a few scattered entries on that one, too. (They were scattered because Ligonier's bloggers are much more thorough than I.) The topic this time was "Tough Questions Christians Face." You can find my articles here, here, here, and here. In these entries and their subsequent comments, I managed to convince an atheist that he was wrong. (Okay, that's not even remotely true. I was just throwing that out there to rib Dagoods if he's still reading this stuff.)

One recurring theme in my posts this year was on the topic of "same-sex marriage". It was thrust upon us in May when the California Supreme Court decided to strike down the vote of the people that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. My position from the first has been the same. While most people are concerned about the morality, I've been trying to point out the illogic. "Same-sex" cannot be "marriage" any more than "square" can be "round". It's not a matter of morality. It's a matter of definition. (And it is in that definition that the primary difference is found between "civil rights" and "gay rights" on the topic.) I argued more than once that Christians are largely at fault for failing to properly define marriage ourselves. The first, in fact, was over an Arizona proposition that made the ballot. The last was just this month. I tried to illustrate using Ted, a fictitious biker. I tried a more humorous approach using my son's wedding to explain it. I used a hypothetical conversation at a party to explain what happens when common definitions change.

I also approached the "cherished" perceptions. I questioned the "born that way" argument. I questioned the "civil rights" aspect of the argument. I disagreed with the position that this is an issue of freedom. I even questioned the perception of many Christians who argue "Homosexuality is a sin." Then there was a series on "what does it matter?" You know, the argument -- "Why should you care if the definition changes?" I explained what was at stake, why it was important to me as a Christian, and the bottom line problem -- if government and God don't count ... what makes marriage at all? There were actually more entries on the topic. Feel free to find them yourself.

There was more, lots more. I like the topic of marriage and hit it more than once. I did a couple on biblical elders, a few on global warming, and some on worship. I did a series on biblical manhood with an emphasis on fathers and husbands. I enjoyed the blog this year. I never seemed to run out of something to write about, thanks to current events, the blogosphere, and people and conversations. My readership has stayed even -- around 300 to 400 visits a week -- and I can't complain about that. (I don't know most of those 300 to 400 people.) And I'm very pleased that, even when my articles approached "controversial," I didn't experience any of the vitriol that so many others do. Maybe I'm doing something right. Or maybe -- perhaps more likely -- I'm flying under the radar. Who knows?

I wish for all my readers that you would enjoy a happy new year with, first and foremost, the blessings of a growing relationship with Christ.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Education and Progress

At our recent family reunion, my mother showed me a copy of this. It is, apparently, an accurate description of a test given to 8th-grade students in Kansas in 1895. Now, if you ask around, there are those who dismiss the whole thing. "Who cares? It's not an valid comparison to today's education." Okay, fine. I was just fascinated by the questions they were asked in 8th grade in the 19th century.
This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 from Salina, Kansas. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, Kansas and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run.
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7-10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts. per bu, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $.20 per inch?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10.Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865?

Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u'.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e'. Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences, Cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10.Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)
1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of N.A.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fermandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10.Describe the movements of the earth. Give inclination of the earth.
I think that it's obvious that some of this test is stacked to the society in which they were in, things like "How many bushels of wheat ..." and "Tell what you can of the history of Kansas." (My brother-in-law said, "Oh, that's easy. They made a couple of really good albums and then broke up.") And there is the factor, highlighted by the TV show, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader", that if you don't use stuff like this, you lose it. Sure. Still, I'm pretty sure that I never had a lot of this to forget because, despite my quality education, I never learned a lot of this. I'm was even unclear on some of the terms, like "orthography" and "diacritically". I'm amazed that they were expected to sit through a 5 hour test. And I think that it does paint in a new light that quaint little phrase you might have heard from your grandparents: "I never got more than an 8th-grade education." Beyond that, draw conclusions as you see fit.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Broken News

A local radio talk show host had an interesting premise. How much of what we hear on the news actually tells us the truth about our world? His claim: "It usually winds up misleading us grotesquely." I think the idea is worthy of considering.

First, what is the nature of the news media? Well, assuming that it is honest (that is, setting aside the bias we all know is there), we're still left with singular events. By its nature, the news isn't purporting to tell us about the world; it is telling us about unusual things. And I'm not complaining about that. It's just the way it is. The media, in order to keep your attention, will need to tell you about things that do not happen in your normal day. So we hear about the economy, crime, sports, tragedies, and the like. We may even sometimes hear about unusually good events. Still, they are all out of the ordinary because, well, the ordinary isn't news.

Now, consider this. How much of your perceptions are shaped by the news? You may want to say that it's not much, but I think you'd have to admit that it's not true. When terrorists flew airplanes into buildings in 2001, it altered everyone's perceptions. It brought about radical changes in our economy, our practices, our worldview. A more current example would be the economy. Day after day we see news items about how bad things are. Unemployment is at 6.7%, the highest in years. Last month employers laid off half a million workers. An estimated 10% of home owners are in foreclosure. The stock market is in a mess. We've been in a recession since last December. And so it goes. There is no question that this is affecting people. Whether or not they are actually impacted by the economic events, the reports are all about the pessimism of most people. why are they pessimistic? Well, look at the news!

Have you seen the problem yet? First, the news is out of the ordinary. Second, we tend to have our outlook shaped by the news. In other words, our perceptions of the world are shaped by things that are not common. We are, then, being grotesquely misled.

Here, let me try it from this direction. I will repeat the above news in reverse. On the employment issue, currently more than 93% of America's workforce is gainfully employed. In fact, so successful has the economy been over the years that the last time we saw unemployment this high was way back in 1993. More, did you know that during our boom years of the 80's, unemployment was up to 10%? We recovered just fine from that, didn't we? And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while we did indeed lose some 673 million jobs in November, in the same month the year before we gained 631 million jobs. (Why didn't anyone tell us?) In other words, these things change all the time. On the housing front, it's good to know that 9 out of 10 homeowners are doing just fine paying their mortgage. Here, let me put it this way. In terms of raw numbers, in America today you have only a 1 in 10 chance of going into foreclosure. Well, you get the idea.

See what I mean? Take driving, for instance. The news shows car crashes and the traffic report tells you how many accidents have occurred, but it doesn't stop you from driving. Why? Well, you've driven enough to know that the vast majority of the time you will get to and from your destination safely ... despite the news indications to the contrary. It's the same in all sorts of aspects of life. People are not robbed, murdered, assaulted, or raped every day. Sure, some are, but those are the news items -- the out of the ordinary -- not the normal. Every day, children go out to play and come home safely. Job seekers are still getting jobs. Oh, and did you know that the most Christians do not hate homosexuals? Good parents, every day, love their children without beating them or injuring them. Life, in fact, is largely nothing for the news to speak about. That is what should shape our perceptions instead of the out of the ordinary events that bombard us every day on our news broadcasts.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

He shall save His people

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:18-21).
Yes, I know, Christmas is over. But what is more significant than the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Savior, God Incarnate? Besides, I wanted, as you worship today, to point out a couple of little, oft-missed points.

Mary was told something a little different. Her news was that the Son she was going to bear would be King. Joseph, on the other hand, heard this message: "He will save His people from their sins."

Notice a couple of items in that simple phrase. First, the salvation that Jesus was bringing was definite. "He will save ..." Second, the salvation that Jesus was bringing was limited. He wasn't going to save everyone; He was going to save some. Finally, this "some" had a title -- "His people." If you are among those who are saved, you are among those who are "His people." You are owned by the Savior. You are related to the Savior. What a glorious place to be ... definitely saved as part of a narrow group that is called "His people"!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Amateur Experts

People who think they know everything really irritate those of us who really do. But, seriously, have you ever met those amateur experts that will argue heatedly about things they really don't know? I had a discussion the other day with a woman who was quite sure she knew how television signals were transmitted and was absolutely sure I was wrong ... even though her notion made no sense at all and wasn't grounded in reality. Okay. Fine.

It happens all over the place, of course. You can often tell these amateur experts by the way they spout the same old arguments that have been spouted for too long and have already been debunked. As a sad, but true example, some Christians still argue that NASA has proven that Joshua's extra-long day is a scientific fact because they have computers that calculate these things and they found a missing day. This is nonsense, of course, and anyone who thinks it through for a moment would see it, but these folks are "experts" because they ... well ... read it ... you know ... somewhere. Emails with this kind of stuff (from every conceivable angle) are always around, and people who don't bother to check facts become experts by these hoaxes.

And Christians are obviously not alone in this. I'm sure we all know people who have Christianity's number. You know the kind. They are sure they are in possession of the coup de grĂ¢ce, the final death stroke that proves that Christianity isn't true. Of course, it never seems to work out that way, but that doesn't stop these amateurs from being experts. The other day I was talking to a guy who was telling me about a silly man he saw in a car. One bumper sticker declared the man to be a retired marine and the other bumper sticker told what church he went to. "How can anyone be a Christian and be in the military?" he scoffed. "You can't do both."

Curious, I asked him why. He was, after all, an expert on Christian beliefs, wasn't he? I mean, he clearly knew this obvious fact. As it turned out, asking why was a problem. "I don't know. I just know that Christians aren't allowed to be in the military."

Good argument. I could see the indisputable logic. So I tried to help him out. "You mean about that 'thou shalt not kill' thing?"

"Yeah! That's it!"

"So, in your view, if someone broke into a Christian's home and threatened to kill his family, he would not be allowed to kill the intruder and save the lives of his kin, right?"

"Yeah! Of course! You know ... that whole 'turn the other cheek' thing!"

It was pitiful reasoning from someone who thought they knew it all without even pretending to know it at all. It was painful to watch. I quietly suggested that his understanding of the entire thing might be in error and, perhaps, he ought to look into what is actually said before he jumps to conclusions. That, of course, was unacceptable. He knew what he knew. Don't bother him with actually trying to understand that stuff. It was garbage anyway because ... well ... he knew it!

Christians, please don't do this. It isn't a good approach. I know ... we think that by standing firm on what we "know" (that is, what we've heard from others without actually examining ourselves), we're defending the faith. It would be wise, however, to actually digest some of this ourselves before declaring ourselves experts in things we may not actually comprehend. It just makes us look bad ... all of us. You know, it's not always bad to include a little humility with your discussion. In fact, I'd argue that humility is a good thing for Christians to have.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Dangerous Technology

There are discussions, at times, about the morality of technology. I would suggest that technology is amoral. The "good" or "bad" of technology would depend on how you use it. Use a car to drive a child to a hospital -- the car is good. Use a car to get away from a bank robbery -- the car is bad. More correctly, the way it is used is good or bad.

Today we have more technology than ever before. (Well, of course we do. What a blatantly obvious observation!) The question still remains. Is it good or bad? Take, for instance, email. Fairly new on the scene (compared to all of the previous forms of human communication), it has its value. Originally there was word of mouth which required face-to-face interaction. Then there was letter writing. Then came telephones. Now there is email. How does email differ from the others? Well, it is quick, easy, and instant. And that's good ... or bad. You see, when you communicate face to face, you are forced to deal with ... the other face. When you say something hurtful or mean, the feedback is instantaneous. People tend to choose their words more carefully when they know they will have to deal with consequences. Letters avoid that instant feedback, but they also provide a slower process. You sit down and you write. You think about it. You weigh the time and effort against the cost and time. Even if you send off a mean missive, you have the opportunity of cooling off and then calling the receiver to say, "I'm sorry, but I sent you a letter I shouldn't have. Please disregard it." You know, consequences. Telephones avoid the face-to-face aspect, but still allow for auditory feedback. Consequences. Email, on the other hand, can get away from you. It is so fast, so easy, so instant that it is entirely possible to respond in the heat of a moment and send it (and have it received) before we have time to think. They even have a term for it -- "flame wars." Email is easy, but it takes greater responsibility to avoid misusing it.

Something that we have that none of the earlier generations had is the Internet. What a technological boon! Do you want to know what "orthography" means? Google it. Was the actress you just saw on that TV show the same one you saw in that older movie? Google it. You can find just about anything on the Internet. And knowledge goes through the roof. There is, unfortunately, a down side to this "infinite" capacity for information. The capacity to find pornography, for instance, shifted from "hard to find" in the first half of the 20th century to "hard to avoid" today. Search for something as innocuous as "thermoelectric controller" and it's possible that you'll find a porn site dedicated to catching electronics geeks in odd searches. (I didn't try it. I don't need to know.) And, I believe, there is another side effect. In the past, the twisted -- those who were on the edge of society, like child molesters and the like -- were on the edge of society. They kept largely to themselves. They knew they were strange and unaccepted by society and they hid their activities ... which would necessarily diminish their activities. Today, however, the Internet offers hope. Relax! There are lots of you sick people out there! In fact, some of you who would never have considered going down that road (because society would have frowned heavily on it) can now follow the path of perversion because ... look ... lots of people do it! There are websites dedicated to every form of the bizarre, twisted, sick thing you may not even be able to imagine. But there's no reason to worry because someone has imagined it and all you have to do is run across it. Poof! New depths of sick! All made "acceptable" because ... it's on the Internet.

I have worked my whole life in technology. I have seen lots of people imagining lots of things that might be of value to lots of folks. Imagining things of value is easy. Considering all the consequences is hard. In a previous job, one of my tasks was to test new software in a product. To do this, I had to make sure that it worked like it was supposed to and fixed the problem it was supposed to fix. Then I had to imagine what others might do and see what affect it would have. That, my friends, is a hard task. Trying to imagine every possible use for the technology we are developing is, well, impossible. Unfortunately, that means that we have to rely on human beings to be responsible with the technology we give them. So ... how is that working out for us?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The First Christmas

Sometimes Christians argue about whether or not we should celebrate Christmas. In fact, at various times in Church history, a celebration of the birth of Christ has been outlawed. I would respectfully beg to differ with those folks. Look at the arrival of the Savior.

The first thing we read is that the number one angel, Gabriel, arrived on the scene to tell Mary that she would bear a child, the Son of God. No small thing. There aren't a lot of instances where God sends direct emissaries to do announcements like this. Some time later, God repeats this remarkable event to tell her betrothed, Joseph, the same thing, compounding the unusual nature of the event.

The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, so God saw to it that a pagan Caesar instituted a census and the Messiah in utero arrived in Bethlehem just before His birth. On the night He was born, it wasn't just the parents in their "stable for a room" lodgings that celebrated this arrival. It was also shepherds. So ... how did shepherds -- some of the lowliest folks in the culture -- get in on this event? God sent an angel to tell them and accompanied that angel with "a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men'" (Luke 2:13-14). You must admit, that's quite a celebration.

It didn't end there. God also put up a special star. Magi from the East saw the star, recognized it as the special sign it was, and followed it all the way to the child's door. They brought gifts for the King, celebrating His arrival. Yes, this birth was celebrated locally as well as internationally. Indeed, the biggest celebration was that put on by God.

Now, look, if you can find a single birth in the history of mankind that had that kind of a birthday celebration from God Himself, then I think you could safely argue that we should also celebrate that birthday. If, on the other hand, you would argue, "No, we shouldn't be celebrating this birthday," it would seem that you are arguing, "God made a mistake." "Oh," you protest, "it's not the birthday celebration that bothers us. It's the fact that it's not His birthday." The wise men didn't actually arrive on the birthday either. They arrived when they got there. And it was a valid celebration anyway.

It's Christmas today. We recognize it as the day we celebrate the King who came to bring us salvation. It was celebrated by parents, shepherds, wise men, and angels. And it was a unique event on the planet. Celebrate with me today. It is truly a day to decare, "Glory to God in the highest."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Application

I know people, right now, who are having marital difficulties. Some are wondering "Is my spouse cheating on me?" Imagine, then, how that worked for Joseph. He hasn't married the woman and he knows he hasn't done ... anything else he shouldn't ... and she ... comes up pregnant. Can he have any doubt as to whether or not she was cheating? Of course not. So we read:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus (Matt 1:18-25).
Now, 1 Cor 13 says that love "believes all things." I read somewhere that C.S. Lewis said that love believes the best of the person even against the evidence -- nay, against much evidence. Joseph had much evidence against his betrothed, and the only proof of her innocence was a visit from an angel.

Joseph, of course, did the right thing. He believed in Mary's innocence. He believed the angel over the evidence. He took God at His word. He loved Mary and married her. And Joseph's right choices led us all to Christmas.

"It was easy," you might say. "He had an angel tell him what was right." Funny thing. We all have the plain Word of God telling us what is right. Still, too often we don't take God at His word. Maybe, starting this Christmas, we can start to be a little more like Joseph ... even against the evidence.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Conversation with a Pastor

I talked to a pastor the other day. I was asking him about his church. He explained that the basic premise of his church was three-fold: Glorify God, edify the believer, testify to the world. I was happy about that. I think that is the biblical order of things for the Church. God first. Build believers second. Share the gospel third. Good stuff. Then I asked him what his church did to edify believers. More to the point, what did they do to make mature Christians out of new believers? "Oh," he told me, "we have lots of things for that." He listed several. They were currently studying Mark Devers' book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. One group was going through a Francis Schaeffer video series. Oh, and the men met every other Saturday to study Tim Keller's book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Lots of stuff! Why, in the coming month they're going to go through a great book on Christians and finances! "We have lots of ways to build more mature Christians."

I asked a question. "What about the Word?" He was genuinely puzzled. "If they need more of the Word than they are getting from the preaching, then I honestly do not understand why they would not find themselves DEEPLY challenged by the Francis Schaeffer video series we are showing at the same time as the teaching on the 9 Marks." I tried to explain. "Where would I go to find out more about the Word? Where would I learn how the imagery of Revelation is tied to the Old Testament imagery? Where would I get to hear an exposition of Romans as an entire thought rather than individual chapters? Where would I get an understanding of how a Hebrew Christian would have understood the book of Hebrews? That sort of thing." I tried to clarify further. "What is being offered in most places is third party ... an elder or someone else's perspective on a video perspective about Francis Schaeffer's perspective." No help at all. He told me he had no idea where I was coming from. He suggested that maybe his church would not be a good one for me. He did tell me, though, that most of the good churches he knew of in our area were the same as his.

I, too, am baffled. I'm baffled that a pastor couldn't understand my question. I'm stunned that all the other churches were the same. "Sure, we're preaching the Bible, but we're not teaching it. We're discussing each others' views on other people's views about things related to the Bible." I'm at a loss. Am I too far out there? Am I asking something bizarre? Or maybe I haven't expressed myself well enough? Is the question too obscure? Or am I just asking for something that would be an odd request of a church? This pastor was a good man, a fine preacher, in fact, even a Reformed pastor. All good things. I thought I was asking fundamental questions. Where did I go wrong?

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Problem of Proponents

Over the years I've had too many times that I've had to defend myself against people that "agree" with me. Have you ever run into that? Sure you have. You know how it goes. "You Christians," they'll say, "you all believe this." "What makes you say that?" "Because I've talked to Christians and they believe that" or "Big names in Christianity say so" or "It happened in Christian history." Oh, sure, you know what I'm talking about. We Christians are evil because Christians a thousand years ago used the name of Christ as a banner to go to war in Jerusalem. See? Proof! Christianity is a violent religion that urges people to kill unbelievers! What more could you ask?

It happens in lots of places. In a recent conversation, someone assured me that "Calvinists believe this" (where, of course, "this" was an appalling statement). Why did he think that? "Well, I listened to R.C. Sproul and he is the 'Grand Dragon' of Calvinism and that's what I heard him say." See? People who "agree" with me. It's the same thing with other aspects. Big names, including Calvin himself, are invoked as proof of what I must believe because they said it (or did it or implied it or were construed to have suggested the possibility that ... well, you get the idea). And instead of discussing the issues at hand from, oh, say, a biblical viewpoint, I'm forced to defend myself ... against my proponents.

Take the term, "evangelicals." It has long been used as a divider, a separation between "those mainstream liberals you call Christians -- but we know better" and "us Bible-believing, right-thinking Christians." If you follow the trends today, you'll find that the term is becoming completely meaningless. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) just had its Vice President of Government Affairs, Richard Cizik, resign because he strayed from the Evangelical position. Of course, that might support the idea that Evangelicals are holding the line, but in the wake of his resignation, Christians all over the place are rising up in his defense. Some 60 Christian leaders complained about the resignation and demanded a "like-minded replacement." And now the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports that "52% of those belonging to churches and denominations that teach that Jesus is the only way of salvation reject that teaching." And now I'm back at the same place. "Oh," people say, "we know what you believe. You no longer believe that Jesus is the only way." "Why do you say that?" "Because you're an Evangelical, and they don't believe that anymore." I'm back to defending myself against my proponents.

Sometimes it's nice to have people on your side. And sometimes the people on your side are misunderstood by others who disagree. But, too often, other people who are perceived to be in agreement with you say or do things that disagree with you. Then you're stuck. The issues change. The arguments shift. Sometimes I think I wish I didn't have so much support ...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Christmas Story

My favorite rendition of the Christmas story:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:5-11).
Oh, sure, I love that other stuff. The angelic announcements to Joseph and Mary, the birth in Bethlehem -- complete with "no room for them in the inn" -- the angels and the shepherds, the wise men, these are all the standard components of the Christmas story. I love them all. As a whole, it presents a wonderful event.

Still, I need to keep in mind that happy births and singing angels were not the main ideas. The idea that Christ, "in the form of God", would willingly lay that aside to become human for the purpose of an excruciating death and a spiritual sacrifice on my behalf is almost more glorious than I can bear. I do indeed look forward to the day that "every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Perhaps then we'll all remember that Christmas isn't about us.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Problem of Love

Two people separated by a common language. I see that concept lived out way too often in conversations with people. Most recently it was with that couple I mentioned earlier -- that lesbian couple. They asked me the same thing you hear so often: "How can it be wrong to love someone?" The question seems to baffle a lot of people. Even Christians have a hard time responding. To me, however, it is a radical failure to communicate.

"Now," you ask, "what could be more straightforward than that?" Well, the whole question hinges on a single word, assuming we are all talking about the same thing -- "love." The word, however, is a serious communication problem. When the question is asked, "How can it be wrong to love someone?", there are underlying assumptions. First, we all believe that love is good ... in fact, always good. Second, if you object to sex between people of the same gender, you must be objecting to love. Third, all people who argue that homosexuality is immoral do so on the basis that they object to love. As if it's a simple question.

Let's pick it up the concept of love in this context for a moment, twirl it about a few times, and see what we find. I think, like a prism, the more angles you view it from, the more complicated it will be. Take, for instance, the absolutely implied conclusion that loving someone includes having sex with them. Now, I would hope that the moment I say this, everyone would immediately see it is a problem. We love in many ways. We love our families, but I would assume that most of us don't include sexual relations with that. We love food, pets, power, all sorts of things that the notion of sex can't even approach. And even if we want to argue that we're speaking here of romantic love, it is nonsense to suggest that even this kind of love always includes sex. It is just so obviously wrong. "Oh, so you are opposed to love!" No, of course not. Turning that prism of "love" one way, we see quite clearly that Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another. (In context, it was abundantly clear that He was commanding male disciples to love other male disciples ... as well as female disciples.) No hint of sex there, but a certain embracing of love. Turning that prism another way, we see that God, like a good father, chastises those whom He loves. Now that puts another twist on it. Love always seeks the best for the other person, and sometimes that includes the least pleasant for the one who loves as well as unpleasant (but necessary) things for the loved one. (A trite but obvious example might be when a loving parent allows a nurse to coldly and cruelly stab a piece of metal into their tiny child for the purpose of injecting them with the components required to later save them from worse diseases.) Love, indeed, has many facets.

So here we are, back at the conversation, with a question dangling. "How can it be wrong to love someone?" The question is intended to justify a sexual relationship that God has declared "unnatural" (Rom 1:26-27). The goal is to use God's own command to love as a reason to say that God was wrong when He said not to engage in these practices. At this point I have to ask ... "What's love got to do with it?" But, then, I fear that would be a radical failure to communicate on my part. Sigh.

Friday, December 19, 2008


WWJD? We all know that one. What would Jesus do? It was a fairly popular, albeit odd question among Christians for awhile. The one that I've been contemplating lately, however, is a slightly different question. How did Jesus do it? No, no, I'm not asking for a scientific explanation of how He walked on water or fed the 5,000. I'm thinking of more "mundane" things. How did Jesus keep His cool when His disciples were such jerks (you know, like when they argued about who would be at Jesus's right hand)? How did He keep from getting angry when His opponents were so cruel and foolish? The question that has most recently nagged at me, however, is this one. How did He deal with the sinners with whom He spent so much time?

'Tis the season, and it often includes spending time with people you don't normally spend time with. As it happens, I managed to spend an evening with people from my wife's place of employment, including most notably a lesbian couple who shared our table, followed by an afternoon with a heterosexual couple who live together without the benefit of marriage. I was amiable and all, even when the lesbian couple learned that my wife and I met at church and were honest-to-goodness Christians. After all, we are not called to correct the world. We aren't called to change the behavior of those around us to more closely conform to God's standards. We are, in fact, all in the same boat -- sinners in need of a Savior. The only difference is that some of us have found Him and some haven't. On the other hand, we can't come across as agreeing with sin. We can't encourage it or condone it. So there is something else in between -- our more proper position.

Jesus spent a lot of time with sinners. He was known for it. What line did He walk? He surely was never perceived as condoning sin. He illuminated it, not condoned it. And He certainly preached repentance. But if His only conversation with prostitutes and tax collectors was "Repent, sinners!", they wouldn't have spent much time with Him. No, that wasn't how He came across to them at all. He had that ... proper position.

What was that place? What was the balance He struck? How did He do it? You can ask, "What would Jesus do?", but I'm currently more interested in "How did He do it?" That little piece of information might be helpful at the next social gathering I'm sure I'll encounter.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chreaster Christians

It's that time of year. Every church knows that their church service closest to Christmas will be one of their best attended services of the year. The other, of course, is Easter. I call them "Chreaster Christians," those folks who feel some compunction to show up on Christmas and Easter, as if this makes them "Christian" in some sense.

What is this compunction? What are these people doing? I talked to someone just the other day who told me, "I like going to this church once in awhile because I can just go and no one will bother me." "No one will bother me." What is that all about? What is it that makes people go to church when they don't actually want to be part of church? What is it that makes people feel like they need, somehow, to "touch bases with God" without actually being involved with God?

When you think about it, it's really quite bizarre. They obviously recognize that they are not in line with what the Bible teaches is "right living." To put it in actual, Christian terms, they obviously recognize that they are sinners. They further sense, at some level, that they aren't right with God. There is a problem. So they think, I suppose without thinking, that they can make it right by showing up once in a great while where God is and that makes them right with God.

It gets more bizarre if you take it apart and look at what's really going on. If you could get them to actually admit what's being said, it would look something like this. "No, I am not actually concerned with repentance. I'm not really interested in doing what God wants me to do. All I'm really looking for is absolution. I want a god who will tell me that whatever I'm doing is perfectly fine with him. I have no intention of bending my will to the will of the Almighty. I will not, of course, change anything about myself, my choices, or my lifestyle. I just want a god who will be pleased that I showed up ... once or maybe twice a year ... and has nothing to say about what is right, wrong, or what to do about it." In other words, "I want a god who I can come to on my own terms to make me feel okay without any demands, regulations, or, well, truth involved."

It's at these times that you can begin to see going to church as idolatry. This is a substitution of god for God, of the Sovereign Lord for "my puppet". Who, in this instance, is "god"? Well, I am, of course. What I want is my god, and anyone who disagrees is the devil. Unfortunately, that particular god isn't found at any real church. And if you find yourself comfortable or comforted on Christmas or Easter or any other Sunday when you use that approach, it's not because you had an encounter with God. It's because you found a building that isn't church and you closed your ears to God and in no way can that be considered absolution or a correct relationship with God.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Crossing Against the Light

The other day I was standing at a street corner waiting for the "Walk" sign to light. In front of me was an apparently loving grandmother with a little 4 or 5-year-old girl. It was a cute picture, the grandma using the teachable moments to get the little girl to count or to learn something new by watching things that were around. The left turn light turned green, but the "Walk" didn't light, so I waited ... but the grandmother didn't. She grasped firmly the little girl's hand and walked into the street toward cars turning into her path. She waited in the middle of the street until they stopped and then went on.

"Big deal," most of you would say. "She kept the girl safe." Not my concern here. What else did she do? She taught this little girl another valuable lesson: Rules are made to be broken. She did it in the most innocuous way, making it more dangerous. She categorized the traffic safety laws as "less important" and taught her grandchild, "Don't consider laws as things to obey. Think of them as things to break when it suits you and you can get away with it."

I know ... much ado about nothing. Still, I can't help thinking that it's exactly what each of us does. I'm sure that this grandmother would never tell her dear granddaughter, "Why don't you go into that store and see if you can grab some candy without being caught!" No, no, stealing is bad. Crossing the street illegally is ... well ... not. And so we all seem to do. I knew a Christian woman who argued, "Christians shouldn't see R-rated movies!", but felt no compunction to submit to her husband. Conservative moralists will shout, "Homosexuality is immoral!" while they ignore the adultery they commit or the stealing they perpetrate. I bet there were plenty of heterosexual couples who live together without the benefit of marriage who voted on moral grounds to prevent "same-sex marriage". Too many who call themselves "Christians" beat their breasts against the immorality of this world while they mimic it. It is no wonder that it's tough to tell the Christians from the world. Still, it is a human thing. We all do it to a varying extent.

It is in the nature of human beings to minimize our own error. One of the smoothest ways to commit this sleight of hand is to maximize the errors of others. "Well, I never killed 6 million Jews like Hitler did. I'm not a bad person." Sorry. Wrong standard. The standard we are bound to keep makes crossing the street against the light equivalent to murder in terms of violating God's standards. Be careful when you start pointing fingers. I know I can't afford to do it much without considering my own sins first. You see, what they are doing is bad; what I am doing isn't so bad. They are committing big sins, but I'm just ... crossing against the light.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Maybe a Hint

I got a hint the other day of what, perhaps, could be a large part of what's wrong with the American economy. They did a news story about the top five employers in the greater Phoenix area. These were, in order from top to bottom, the State of Arizona, Walmart, Banner Healthcare, the City of Phoenix, and the County of Maricopa.

What an odd group! Not one of them produces anything. Three of the five don't even support themselves. They operate with income from the public that is not voluntary. In other words, more people in this area are employed by companies that don't produce anything and don't support themselves than anything else.

Now, I'm sure we need government. And I have to be honest -- I work for the State of Arizona myself. Still, you have to wonder. If our economy is built largely on government and service, where is the production? Where is the progress? Where is the underlying structure needed to support government and service? It seems to me that this isn't a particularly good balance for a healthy economy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

We Protest!

Leaving work the other day, I found I had to walk through a demonstration on a street corner. So ... what were they protesting? Oh, it was those evil cameras on the corner ... you know ... those evil cameras that snap pictures of drivers and their license plates when they run red lights. In fact, we here in Arizona have a sudden boom in the photo traffic enforcement arena. They're at street corners for red lights and they're on streets and freeways to catch speeders.

So, what is it that has these people so upset? I first went by their signs. It was "Camera fraud." They argue that the local governments that put these things up are making money by fining people caught breaking traffic laws. (I'm confused. Do local governments not make money when fining people caught breaking traffic laws by police officers?) But there is more. Several protesters had signs about privacy rights. Apparently it's a violation of your privacy to enforce the law with cameras. Oh, but it gets worse. Now those pesky camera folks want to use license plate recognition software to track criminals. At one particular intersection they've installed a red filter which could be used as part of an evil plot to photograph the faces of motorcyclists with helmet visors. Diabolical! And apparently it's the common belief. The local radio stations talk about it as if it's a given. It's wrong. It's evil. It violates the "innocent until proven guilty" clause. It's just a scam. It doesn't help safety at all. (You have to ignore the statistics to hold that, but most aren't normally bothered with facts when they make their claims.) It's wrong and everyone knows it.

What, then, is the issue? I'm not getting it. Apparently it is "fraud" to use anything except live police to enforce the law. I don't know why it is that cameras on ATMs, at banks, on toll roads, and so many other similar places haven't raised such a ruckus, but this one is it. It's wrong -- horribly wrong -- to use technology to enforce traffic laws. What we really need is officers on the beat to do the job. Oh, but, no, they can't actually chase you down. That causes a safety risk. So, they have to be live and they cannot pursue, so I suppose the only possibility at this point is to have speeders volunteer to pull over if a police officer -- an increasingly rare and expensive commodity on today's market -- happens to flash his (or her) lights at them. Otherwise, forgive the intrusion. Please ... speed on.

I wanted to tell them, this gaggle of angry protesters, "Do you want to know how to stop this 'intrusion into your privacy' that you are protesting? Don't break the law! Seriously! These camera systems aren't cheap. Stop running red lights and speeding (these only take your photo if you're more than 10 MPH over the speed limit), and you'll find that government entities can't afford to keep them around." It's a case of the tail wagging the dog here. "We protest you doing things that prevent us from breaking the law when we want!!" What? Come on, people, that's not making any sense at all. Stop breaking the law and the question goes away.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

One Thing

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD (Psa 27:1-6).
Sometimes the original is best. You don't need my help understanding this. Selah.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Who's to Blame?

We can debate this issue 'til the cows come home. Should society alter the definition of "marriage" to allow "same-sex couples" to be included in the new definition? A large portion of "religious conservatives" (whatever that really means) argue that "same-sex couples are immoral, so they shouldn't be allowed to marry." A smaller group says, "Marriage is what it is; you can't redefine it to include same-sex couples." (Note: The first argument is from a moral/religious view; the second is from a logical view. They aren't the same.) In most states in the U.S., there is no such thing as "same-sex marriage." Still, the question is being asked ... again and again. Most recently, Iowa's Supreme Court examined the question. And while there is little doubt what I think about it, here's what I foresee. Eventually the nation is going to cave. The cases are going to hit the fan. The protests will be too loud and the responses too quiet. By a long and slow process started long ago, American mindsets will shift and marriage as it stands will be lost.

Don't misunderstand. It's not "those rotten gays" that I blame. The problem is elsewhere. And because it is elsewhere, it won't stop at marriage. It will continue to erode all sorts of institutions and traditions until ... well, we'll see what happens then.

So, who is to blame? Well, the first line is humans in general. You know, those "dead in sin," hostile to God, that kind of thing. You know, the ones that the Bible describes this way:
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).
Now, in case you were saying, "Yeah, those dirty rotten sinners!", I need to point out that the description is of humans, not "them." That would be ... all of us.

Still, as Christians, we are changed, saved, born again, baptized into Jesus's death and resurrected to new life. We're different. Sure, we are. Or, we ought to be. The difficulty is that it's so hard to tell. We have similar numbers of people shacking up, divorcing, committing adultery, stealing ... well, sinning just like the rest. While the one we claim to follow said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35), we remain as divided as any other group. While we are the ones who receive the Spirit of God who "will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13), we have conferences to explain why that particular group of Christians is so wrong that we need to shoot them on sight. (I exaggerate only slightly.) And even though we have some of the best minds in the world as Christians and some outstanding sources for apologetics, it seems like your average Christian on the street can't receive the simplest challenge without responding in anger and confusion.

Here's the bottom line. Why is it that marriage is on the verge of being overturned to mean something different in our society? It is first and foremost because Christians in our society have turned it over to mean something different. We dislodged the biblical explanation that it was a union of two into one. If we hadn't, divorce among Christians would be too horrible to contemplate. We bought the lie that it was about "love" and "fulfillment" and "equality" and perpetuated it. We perpetuated it when we allowed "man and wife" to change to "husband and wife." We built on it when we edged out "wives, submit to your husbands" in favor of "submit to one another" (a completely nonsensical concept taken out of context as this is). We further compounded the problem when we neglected the God-given structure we were commanded. Human beings were made for a purpose. Our primary purpose is, of course, to glorify our Maker. That purpose, however, was made specific. "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Gen 1:28). God made Man to do it and made Woman to assist him in doing it (Gen 2:18). When we decided, with the rest of our world, that it was all about self-fulfillment and self-gratification, marriage lost its meaning among Christians.

Why doesn't the world see how nonsensical "same-sex marriage" is? Sure, there is the problem of sin. They are blinded to what God wants. Still, the most obvious reason is that Christians haven't stood their ground. We haven't offered examples of living out lives of dying to self for the benefit of others, obeying Christ, submitting to husbands, loving wives to the point of dying, raising godly offspring, representing Christ to those around us. We've bought the notion that our job is, well, to let those people in church tell our neighbors because, after all, the gospel isn't very attractive on its own. There is a lot of blame lying about. I know there's some here with my name on it. I'm fairly sure there's some here for you, too. Perhaps, as we try to defend marriage (without really grasping what it is), we ought to take the log out of our own eye. Yes, they need to hear the truth preached, but there is an old saying: Actions speak louder than words.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Put Christ Back in Christmas

It's a popular phrase among many Christians. "We need to put Christ back in Christmas." I certainly understand the sentiment. What passes for "Christmas" today seems to generally have very little to do with Christ. I mean, even atheists celebrate "Christmas," don't they? Still, it begs a couple of questions.

First, was Christ ever in Christmas? No one with any information today actually believes that Christ was born on December 25th ... 0 A.D. Clement of Alexandria guessed it was January 6. Others guessed that Jesus was conceived at the spring equinox, putting His birth in December. But in the 18th century, Christian scholars began to recognize that the date was more likely chosen for other reasons. Today, we all know that the 25th of December is a convention, a commonly agreed upon date to celebrate the birth of the Savior. But it gets worse. Most of us know that the date was actually stolen. In the early days of the Church, it was the date pagans recognized as the birth of the Sun God every year. It was deeply entrenched in their time, so Christians decided to snatch that date away from idolaters and use it to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. (Now, since English wasn't around at the time, don't try to make anything of "sun" versus "son." That's purely an English construct.) As it turns out, many of our "Christmas traditions" are actually built on pagan traditions. In fact, it is so convoluted that at times it is hard to tell what is "Christmas" and what is pagan in origin. So ... to what degree was Christ ever in Christmas?

On the other hand, the term is "Christmas." It is based on an older English term meaning "Christ's Mass." (By the way, those of you who like to get agitated about "Xmas" when talking about "put Christ back in Christmas," let it go. The "X" in Xmas is simply a reference to the Greek letter that corresponds to the first letter (in Greek) for "Christ." Just like "J.P. Morgan" means that someone named Morgan had a first name that began with "J," the "X" in Xmas is simply an initial, in Greek, for Christ. But I digress.) And the celebration is not so much a "birthday" as we might think. (Seriously, what birthday celebration have you been to where everyone but the birthday boy (or girl) gets gifts?) No, it is actually a celebration of the arrival of our Savior ... whenever He arrived. We find very little in the way of "Christmas" in Church history. It was included in Epiphany at times and outlawed at times. No one in the Church, however, was opposed to the joy of the Savior who came on our behalf. No one in the Church ever has.

Here are the facts. Christ came. When, we don't know. His miraculous arrival is the second most important event in human history. (I would argue that the Creation of humans would have to be the first.) With His arrival came the possibility of redemption, and we are eternally grateful. Now, some may have stolen a day from pagans to recognize that event, and that's somewhat clever if you ask me. And it seems only natural that pagans would steal it back. Nonetheless, the Church -- those who know Christ -- will always celebrate His coming. December 25th has little to do with it. Trees and lights and gifts have little to do with it. Do you want to "put Christ back in Christmas"? That, my friends, is simply a function of your own recognition that every day belongs to Him. "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). "Who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?" (Rom 11:35). Do you want to put Christ back in Christmas? Well, since the Church has always belonged to Him, and since He said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15), maybe that would be a good place to start.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust

Did you notice? Yesterday was "A Day Without A Gay" Day. According to their website, "A day without gays would be tragic because it would be a day without love." Fascinating! I suppose that can only mean that homosexuals are the only humans capable of love. Quite a surprise to me!

So, yesterday, they were encouraged to "call in 'gay'", not sick. Of course, in Arizona that would be sufficient grounds for dismissal, so I'm not sure of the wisdom of such actions, but still ... who knows? (In Arizona, if a gay business owner wants to fire a heterosexual worker because he/she is straight, that, too, is legal.) The goal was "to shift our strong feelings about injustice toward service" by using the day off (that they stole from their employers) to do kind things ... you know ... to show "the world how we love" (as contrasted with what they called "anger" of recent weeks). Some also called for all of the "gay community" to boycott any economic activity to show the financial muscle of the gay community. Others consider that a mistake. The whole idea is actually a spin-off of a similar "Day Without a Mexican" event by Latinos to fight the American bias against illegal immigrants who are, oh, by the way, illegal. That one didn't work out so well. That particular group still remains illegal. The day was intentionally selected to coincide with International Human Rights Day. You see, the only humans who have the capacity to love are not being allowed to do what they want and that's not right. Still, I wonder. Did you notice? Even if we have 10% of our population (that number is likely a gross exaggeration, tending more toward 2%) who are "gay" and some percentage (not nearly all) of those stayed away, would we notice?

You know, volunteering is a good thing. Solidarity is often a good thing. Standing for what you believe in is generally a good thing. Still, I have never actually seen a boycott succeed at what it was intended to accomplish. Statistically, boycotts "have had negligible impact on their targets." So maybe, just maybe, if the "gay community" wants to show the love, skipping work and not buying from their heterosexual neighbors isn't the best choice. (I'd tell the Christian community the same thing.) Maybe folks ought to reconsider that strategy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Do You Love the World?

The question remains, especially for American Christians. Do you love the world?

I recently read a book by Joel Richardson entitled Antichrist: Islam's Awaited Messiah. Interesting book. Mr. Richardson discusses Islamic eschatology (their view of end times) and compares it to Christian eschatology. He explains the importance of end times to Islam (ranked as #2 after devotion to Allah) and their perspective. They have a Messiah that they anticipate. They believe that Jesus (keep in mind -- it's not the same Jesus in which Christians believe) will return and be his "right hand man." They believe that there will be an end to Jews and Christians and all infidels. Interesting stuff, almost all of which I haven't heard. The comparison of what they believe about their Messiah and his right hand man with Christian eschatology was jarring. It sounds incredibly like the "Antichrist" of Christian eschatology. You know ... the Beast of Revelation. And their description of the role of "Jesus" was amazingly similar to that of the Beast's prophet.

It was an interesting read. I didn't exactly know what to do with the information. Was it real? I don't know. I'm not entirely clear on Christian eschatology. How much is figurative and how much is actual? Still, it was interesting. There were a few things that Mr. Richardson wanted to stress. In his section, "How Should We Respond?" (Thanks, man. I wasn't sure until you offered that. Seriously.), he suggested three things. First, pray. Second, share the Gospel with Moslems. Good. I like that. Then he suggested, "Prepare for Martyrdom." Now that was a little jarring. In fact, regardless of whether or not his thesis was correct regarding the correlation of Islam's Messiah and Christianity's Antichrist, he spent some time explaining how Islam is the future. It is the fastest growing religion in the world. It will soon outpace Christianity. And it is unapologetically anti-tolerance when it comes to other religions. So prepare for martyrdom.

And the question remains: Do you love the world? Or is it inconceivable to you that you would hold beliefs that could get you killed?

Newsweek has come out with an article that, amazingly, tries to make a Christian case for a linguistic non-sequitur -- "gay marriage." In it, the author, Lisa Miller, explains that we have no reason as Christians to bother believing what the Bible says. Sure, sure, she admits that the vast majority of Christianity rejects the morality of homosexual relationships. But she is quite sure they're all wrong. The concept of "marriage" as we see it isn't found in the Bible. (It is, but she denies it.) The "traditional family" isn't in there. (It is; she just doesn't know what she's looking at.) In fact, she's quite sure that "nowhere in the Bible do its authors refer to sex between women." (Again, she's blatantly mistaken, but if you're argument is that the Bible cannot be taken at face value and must change with time, what's the point of trying to actually find out what's in it?) She argues that love trumps everything, and you rotten Christians who want to take the Bible literally had better stop ... except, of course, for the parts that talk about love. But Newsweek has taken its stand. According to Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, "to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt—it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition." Got that? If you believe that the Bible is a reliable book, worthy of believing, you are "intellectually bankrupt," "unserious," and in violation of "the great Judeo-Christian tradition." (Please ... you go figure that out. I don't get it at all.)

We don't currently truly comprehend persecution here in America. Oh, there are some who will argue that we Christians are persecuted, to which I'd answer, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." The question remains: Do you love the world? What will you do if Islam becomes the superpower it is growing into? Will you stand against it to your own peril or would you rather live in some measure of comfort? What will you do if the New Atheists have their way and outlaw your beliefs? They continue to make noises about how dangerous Christians really are. Will you stand on your beliefs or will you run for cover and side with the world?

The corollary question has nagged at me for a long time. Is it to our benefit or detriment that Christianity has been so acceptable and powerful in this nation of ours for so long? Has it made us lackadaisical? Has the world enticed us to love it more than Him? Will we be finding out the real answer to these questions soon? Could be.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Against the World

My wife is a big fan of '70's songs, so it is appropriate that I would mention one of those. Released in 1974, Helen Reddy did a song called You and Me Against the World. The chorus went like this:
You and me against the world
Sometimes it feels like you and me against the world
When all the others turn their back and walk away
You can count on me to stay
It was a love song, of course, and expressed a wonderful sentiment. I always liked the idea that no matter what, my wife and I were together facing whatever adversities we may encounter. I suspect, however, that this is short-sighted in view of Scripture.

We tend to think of "you and me against the world" as "when adversity comes," but the Bible says something different to Christians. Jesus said, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). On the other hand, John wrote, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). What we have, then, as Christians is a standardized conflict. There is "the world" and there is "us." Since the "us" designation is often hard to determine, When it comes down to it, it is "me against the world" or, more accurately, the "you and me" would refer to Christ and me.

That position seems a bit harsh, I'm sure. Some will try to tell you you're wrong and everyone thinks so. It's nearly true that "everyone thinks so." Are you willing to accept that position? Sometimes you'll likely wonder, "How is it that I seem to be among a very, very few that thinks this way? What makes me think I'm right and everyone else is wrong?" Are you willing to accept the possibility that you really do stand in opposition to the vast majority of everyone else? It is the truth of our situation. The world hates us because we are not of the world.

On the other hand, do you get along quite well with the world? Are the things of the world important to you? Do you love the world? That is its own dangerous position. I would warn against that one. If you indeed love the world, you may need to repent (change your thinking) or you may not be one of "us." Neither is a good place to be.

The fact is that it is "you and me against the world." Of course, the "you" is the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, so it's not a bad position to be in. Numerically it looks bad, but it is the strongest position, isn't it? Still, it sounds daunting and it can be unpleasant. Be ready for it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Unintended Consequences

A recent report by an organization called Common Sense Media has raised the alarm on children and the media. Taking into account television, videos, and computers, they warn that "there is a strong correlation between media exposure and long-term negative health effects to children." The "negative health effects" included "tobacco use, sexual behavior, obesity, ADHD, academic performance, and drug/alcohol use." The clearest, most obvious connection was to childhood obesity.

We like to think of ourselves as good parents. We tend to think "I'm monitoring my kids." We tell ourselves that's what is important. I suspect, however, that we are mistaken on two counts. First, it is nearly impossible to actually monitor kids, especially in the world of media. Things pop up unbidden. Computers go to websites they never intended. Ads show up which we didn't have a chance to reject. Even "safe" places have sexually-related material shown for all to see. There is no real way to monitor kids when they are connected to the media. The other problem is that in many cases the content isn't the problem. For example, obesity in kids is not a product of content as much as it is of simply being there. Where previous generations used to "go outside and play," today's generation prefers to sit and vegetate. Beyond that, the medium of the media is designed primarily not to feed thinking processes, but to deny them. That is, very little is left to the imagination. Being an audio and visual construct, it leaves nothing for children to think about. Compare that to, say, books, where words construct ideas that readers need to visualize themselves. Other aspects, like poor academic performance and ADHD, would also be, at least somewhat, a product of the medium rather than the content. Time spent in front of a screen is time neglected in other areas, regardless of the content. When it comes to very young, developing children, time spent in front of a screen has several non-content related impacts that I don't think we really want them to suffer. It seems as if our standard society functioning with daily video screens of all types is fraught with consequences we aren't taking into account.

The answer, of course, is unthinkable to most families today. "Get rid of it." That isn't going to happen. Adults enjoy their TVs too much. Computers are necessary. We need the media. But ... do we? The question, I suppose, is really one of priority. Which is more important -- our children or our entertainment? (Face it ... the vast majority of our media usage is entertainment.) To tell the truth, there are negative impacts on adults as well. Will we ignore those, too? Perhaps a middle ground is limiting contact to the media. Perhaps that can work. Are you willing to do that? If we choose to do nothing about it, we can't complain about the media's impact on our society when we have options we refuse to exercise.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Wisdom of God

Sometimes in our "chapter and verse" world of Scripture we get a little ... choppy in our understanding of what is written. We tend to think of, as an example, Romans 1:32 as an end of a thought and Romans 2:1 (the next verse) as the beginning of a new thought. The truth is that these were all written without chapter and verse designations. These followed later so we could all be on the same page, so to speak. The unfortunate side effect, then, is that sometimes we miss the bigger picture. In Paul's epistle to the Romans, for instance, Paul has a message that starts in the first chapter and ends around the 11th chapter. He is outlining a fairly comprehensive theological perspective. It is ... doctrine. Chapter 12, then, starts with a "therefore" -- "What should we do in light of this doctrine?" The rest of the epistle (essentially) is application.

Between the doctrinal part and the application part, Paul, finishing his theological perspective, says this:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?" For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen (Rom 11:33-36).
Now, there are some real important and deep things in that little paragraph. There is the fact that no matter how much "good" we do, it can't be said that God owes us anything. There is the absolutely God-centered focus of all things. There is the focus on His glory. All very, very important things worth examining further and pondering. I, however, want to look only at the first thought.

Paul has laid out a pretty clear theological framework, starting with Man's sinful condition, the solution to that condition, the ramifications of that solution, and so forth. However, despite eleven chapters of preaching (I mean, seriously, which of us would sit through 11 chapters of preaching in a church service?), Paul has an interesting conclusion. "Who has known the mind of the Lord?" In other words, Paul says, "Yes, I've done the best I can, but let me tell you ... I haven't scratched the surface. God and His judgments and His ways are so far above anything I can explain or even understand. It's too marvelous to even contemplate!"

The next time you think, "I think I have this stuff figured out", think again. You don't. Can't happen. And the next time someone asks you a question about God that you can't answer, don't worry about it. Sure, search to see if you can find an answer, but realize that, in the final analysis, human beings (finite) can never fully grasp God (infinite). That's okay. To Paul, it's even a good thing. It should be to us as well.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Saved by Foreknowledge

Probably, if you're a Calvinist-type, you've heard this. "Oh, I believe in the omniscience of God ... I believe that God knows in advance who will and won't be saved. I just don't believe that He predestines who will and who won't."

Think about that for a minute. Without even going into that "middle knowledge" or "foreknowledge is not the same as predestination" argumentation, think about the concept. God knows who will be saved; He just doesn't predestine it. Here is what they are trying to do with this type of statement. "Salvation is available for everyone. No one but the individual determines whether or not they will receive salvation." (I know, I know, it is possible for various individuals to differ with what I just said.) They want to maintain that the individual, not God, determines if he or she will receive Christ. So they want to maintain a type of uncertainty. They think that, somehow, if there is a group of people who will not be saved, then they are excluded somehow and God is not fair (and, maybe, we don't have to share the Gospel with them).

Here's the problem. If God is truly omniscient and if God knows who will and who will not be saved ... then the story is over. Those who will be saved will and those who won't won't. It cannot be changed or God has failed to properly know. In other words ... there is no uncertainty, and allowing for God's perfect foreknowledge is a tacit approval of predestination. Now what do you do? Well, until you find someone else who has perfect foreknowledge, I suppose we had better keep sharing the Gospel with everyone.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Why I Believe

Why do I believe what I believe (on the topic of Reformed theology)? Many will claim that I'm listening to the teachings of men (a primary reason that I despise the "Calvinism" label). Many will claim that I'm ignoring the Bible. So let me lay out as briefly as I can what it is I believe with the briefest of reasoning behind it and you can decide if I get it from Calvin (or Luther or Augustine or whomever you wish to name) and if I'm ignoring the Bible.

I believe that human beings in their natural condition are dead in sin (Eph 2:1), inclined only to evil (Gen 8:21), hostile to God (Rom 8:5-8), and unable to comprehend the things of God (1 Cor 2:14). At the same time, the Creator has required them to submit to Him, an impossible task for a person in that condition. In light of this, I find that there is nothing about human beings in their natural condition that commends them to God. None are "special" or "worthy" or merit God's grace or mercy. However, God, based on His good pleasure (Rom 9:11) (as opposed to anything valuable in the individual), chooses to dramatically intervene in the lives of some. Keep in mind that all have earned death (Rom 6:28), and God would be fully just in letting them receive what they have earned. However, "in order that God's purpose of election might continue," He has chosen to intervene in some of the lives of "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Rom 9:22) in order to demonstrate His astounding mercy and grace. These "vessels for honorable use" (Rom 9:21) do not arrive at this by means of their choices or actions (John 1:12-13; Rom 9:16), but simply by God's mercy. These few, deemed special only because God chooses to make them so and not because of anything within them, are forgiven their sins and made alive (Col 2:13), come to Him in faith (Rom 10:9), and are adopted in to the family of God (John 1:12). These are kept by God to the end by His working within them (Phil 2:12-13) so that they are changed in how they live and do not perish. As carefully tended love-gifts from Father to Son, these are given as a Bride to Christ, not on the basis of anything they have done, but on the basis of Christ's atoning work applied by God to these whom He chooses and makes alive.

Now, maybe someone sees "John Calvin" in something I wrote. Maybe someone thinks I pulled this out of a book somewhere rather than from my Bible. If either of these are true, I missed it. Someone once asked about me, "How can Stan believe that?" The explanation offered was "Well, if you read what he read, you would, too." We'll see if that's so.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Last week was a family gathering. The more family that gathers, the more interesting the conversations can get. It was very interesting when one of my family members explained that if he ever became convinced that Calvinism was right, he'd join the Ku Klux Klan because they were the same thing.

I found it to be a wonderful "teaching moment." My son and his new wife had both been talking with me about the "strawman" argument. They understood it to simply be a weak argument. I was explaining to them that it was something different. The "strawman" argument substitutes a person's actual position with something that is not an accurate representation, and then explains why that position is wrong. I found, during the initial conversation, that I was having difficulties coming up with illustrations. Then I was given this beautiful example. Calvinism is like the Aryan Nation. People who believe in Election believe that they are special people and everyone else is inferior. That, of course, is so wrong! And my son picked up on that illustration quite well.

The difficulty of the strawman argument is that 1) it is linked in some sense to the real position, and 2) there is a tendency, in defending your real position, to want to defend against the strawman argument. In the example above, my son wanted to explain why Calvinism is not like white racism, but the defenses looked as if he was defending the Ku Klux Klan. The correct answer is, "You're right! That kind of thinking is wrong! Now ... what has one to do with the other?" But when you agree with the opponent that the argument he offered on your behalf is wrong, it appears as if you're agreeing that you are wrong, and that's not right either. And humans, being what we are, are very quick to pick up defenses based on emotion much more quickly than defenses based on reason, so the mere fact that we are being opposed, even if it isn't a valid argument, tends to make us want to "take up arms," so to speak.

Arguments can be tricky things. Most of us, when we hear the word "argument", think of "fight", but this isn't the case. We are indeed called to make a defense of the truth. In so doing, we will be required make arguments. We should do so with care. We should do so with reason. We should make sure that the motivation isn't so much self-defense, but both defense of the truth and concern for those we believe to be mistaken. We need to avoid "talking past" each other where we might be using similar terms without similar meaning. We need to be careful to understand the concerns of the other person so we can properly address those concerns rather than merely our defense. There is a lot that goes into this. Perhaps a good starting place would be prayer.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


"What would you like for Christmas?" It's a common question. Kids will hear it when they go to the mall and sit on Santa's lap. Families will ask each other as they anticipate gift-giving gatherings. Friends and coworkers might even ask it just out of curiosity. "What would you like?"

I'm always amazed at those who anticipate rather than ask, and not just at Christmas. You likely know one or two people like this. They don't necessarily ask, "What would you like?" but simply dive in and give or do or say what is needed. They sense that you are down, so they offer a word of encouragement. There are dishes in the sink, so they wash them. There is a mess left behind after the family gathering, so they clean up. They see something in the store and say to themselves, "Oh, that is so much something he or she would like" and they get it ... even without Christmas or a birthday pending.

These "anticipators" are a special breed. They often go without notice or thanks. Many times they do this so often that it is taken for granted. "Of course he'll pick up after himself; it's what he always does." "Why wouldn't she fix us a meal when we drop by for a visit? She always has." Often the anticipated "gift" is "small." He put the dishes in the dishwasher. She found some dirty socks and washed them with the rest of the stuff, knowing you'd need clean socks soon. He sees you coming in the rear view mirror and moves out of your way before you get there so you won't have to change lanes. And the one who receives this kind of gift often go on oblivious to the kindness.

Anticipation at Christmastime is normal. Anticipating the needs and wishes of others, on the other hand, isn't quite so common. It takes an outward look rather than the standard self center. Besides that, it is often practiced with little reward. Still, anticipating the needs and wishes of others and meeting them is a rare gift itself, one that would be well-sought by anyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ who anticipated and met our need long before we knew we had it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Marriage Epiphany

I know. This is a religious viewpoint I'm going to offer. But, hey, I'm a religious guy. My beliefs about God will necessarily inform my worldview. It's just the way it works. So, of course, this isn't intended to be convincing to those who don't share my worldview. However, for those who do ... I had an epiphany I thought I'd share.

Anyone who has read my blog much knows that I have a deep concern about marriage. I think it is important. I think it is in danger. The problem, though, is that it tends to be so ... vague. If you're too vague in what you're trying to say, it leaves room for confusion and misrepresentation. A vague definition of "marriage," for instance, leaves you hard pressed to defend a vote to restrict marriage to a man and a woman without being hateful.

Part of the problem with marriage -- part of the debate -- has swirled around the term "traditional." I've used the language of the California Supreme Court to say that the "longstanding and traditional definition" is ... and there it's between a man and a woman (as even the court recognized). But what is the value of "traditional"? And what about all the changes that marriage has endured over time? The questions are valid. However, I think they should be dismissed. By that I mean that we shouldn't be defining marriage by its trappings and variations. Instead, what is it about marriage that has always been the same? That should serve as the basis for a definition.

Well, at the start, of course, it was defined as the union of a man and a woman (Gen 2:24). It was intended for companionship (Gen 2:18). A husband and a wife were to be faithful to each other, and they were to raise godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). Okay, there we have the primary components. Things change. Things vary. Marriage has had many faces. Still, the bottom line of marriage has been the union (not a small term) of a man and a woman for the purpose of companionship, faithfulness, and offspring. Sometimes that included multiple wives. Sometimes it didn't. For most of history being childless was disgraceful and sad. Childlessness has only recently become vogue. Sometimes there was a racial component or a religious component ... or not. Sometimes women were treated worse than others. All of these are variables, but the bottom line has always remained the same -- the union of a man and a woman. Only recently has "because we love each other" become the primary definition. For most of history marriage was understood to be about companionship, but not necessarily romance.

The most basic component, then, of marriage is "union." It is a unique concept. You don't get it in other types of relationships. Friendships are not the same union. Bloodlines are not even the same union. This concept takes two unrelated people and makes them one. It makes a family where there was none.

Here's the thing. This has always been the case. Before governments, before churches, before Christianity, before even Judaism, it was the case. That means one thing. This fundamental event of making a family out of two unrelated people occurs outside of governments or churches. According to Paul, it is a great mystery (Eph 5:31-32). According to Malachi 2:15, God does it. And that is my epiphany.

The world may do what it wants. They can try to define marriage as something else. They can try to say it's about being happy or sharing love or being recognized. They can try to say it should include same-sex couples. Regardless of what they do, they don't get to define marriage because they don't actually get to make what is totally unique about marriage. God does it. Therefore, God defines it. Tradition doesn't define it. Churches don't define it. Government doesn't define it. God defines it because God makes the union happen. And what was Jesus's warning? "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matt 19:6).

Update: I think you will be hard pressed to find a more clear, concise, or complete statement on the topic than here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blind Spots

The term refers primarily to that spot when you drive that is outside of your rear-view mirror range. It's that spot where, unless you turn your head, you won't see the other car. Truckers routinely warn about it. "If you can't see me in my mirror, I can't see you." It's a dangerous place because, well, you have it, but you don't know it.

The term is useful elsewhere, too. We all have blind spots in life. These are those things about ourselves that we just don't see. Some are easily understandable. "You snore." "No, I don't. I stayed awake all night just to see, and I didn't snore once." Of course, you only snore when you're asleep, so it's understandable that you might not know it. Others are harder to imagine. You're doing them when you're wide awake. You're with you when you do them. You know ... "Why do you always make that noise?" "What noise?" "That noise with your tongue." "What noise?" We do these things, but for one reason or another, we are not aware of it.

Often, I suspect, an easy way to tell a blind spot is to ask yourself, "What is it that irritates me about other people?" I think that too many times we are irritated when people do the same rotten thing we do but aren't fully aware we do it. I talked to a coworker once who complained to me, "My mom is so easily offended that she hasn't spoken to us for 4 years because someone made a comment about shoes." Yeah, that's sad, but he seemed completely unaware that his fellow laborers walked around him on egg shells because he was so easily offended.

Blind spots when you're driving can be dangerous, even deadly. Blind spots in life are equally dangerous. They can damage your health and ruin relationships. She doesn't know she grinds her teeth, but the dentist bill is going to be high. He may not know that he squeezes the toothpaste wrong, but she's divorcing him for it. Trite examples, perhaps, but you get the idea.

I think it's wise to have a few close, trustworthy friends who have the freedom, even the mandate to point these things out to you. Unfortunately, too many of us, for reasons I can't fathom, aren't very likely to ask for that. "I know I've got problems -- perhaps serious ones -- but by no means do I want to know what they are." Think about it. That might not be the wisest approach. And just because someone points out something you didn't know you were doing doesn't necessarily mean that it's an attack. The wounds of a friend ... you know.