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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sovereign ... or not?

In a recent conversation that wandered from "Can you lose your salvation?" to "free will", I made this statement: "You have a very scary God whose will is held captive by His creatures, since He is obligated to always allow them to do whatever they want to do. It is inevitable that at some point someone will do something that will be outside of God's will and God's sovereignty will be completely terminated (instead of 'mostly dead' like it is now)." This elicited the very understandable "Huh??!!" kind of response. "Are you saying that people NOW do everything that is within God's will? That when Hitler killed millions, THAT was within God's will?? That when rape and child abuse occur, THOSE are within God's will? I can't imagine you truly think that, but you tell me."

It is a reasonable response and demands a reasonable explanation. Am I actually claiming that all that occurs on this planet is within God's will? I mean, how can that be??!! And I see the problem ... but do you see the other problem? There are multiple places in Scripture that assign to God the term "Sovereign". In 1 Tim 6:15 He is, in fact, the only Sovereign. We also read in Eph 1:11 that God works all things after the counsel of His will. So now we have a problem. Either my outrageous assertion that everything that happens on this planet falls within the will of God is true as it lines up with these passages, or these passages are just as wrong as my assertion is. So what do we do?

Well, let's try it from a human perspective (first), understanding first of all that we are not sovereign. We only like to think we are. So, I tell my wife, "Wouldn't it be nice to have an RV to travel around in" or I tell my grandson, "Clean up your room" and I have expressed my will, have I not? Of course, these are actually two types of "will". One is a wish, something that I don't even expect to have, and the other is a command which may or may not be obeyed. The theological terms for these types of will are "permissive will" and "preceptive will". In one case I offered a desire with not real intention of fulfilling it, and in the other I offered a command that ought to be fulfilled ... but might not. As humans we can understand these categories.

God also has these two types of wills. We know, for instance, that God "desires all people to be saved", but we also know that it won't happen. This would be His "permissive will", something He would like but doesn't actually intend to fulfill. We also know, for instance, that adultery is against the will of God because He said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." We know, again, that people commit adultery, so God's precept in this case doesn't occur. So God shares these two types of will with humans. There is -- must be -- a third type of will of God, however, if the passages I referenced above are to be held as true and valid. This will is not present in humans because God is the "only Sovereign". This will the theologians refer to as God's "decretive will". This will always occurs ... if God is actually Sovereign. This will is the one that agrees with Eph 1:11 -- God works all things after the counsel of His will. This will would encompass everything that occurs on this planet, and nothing that occurs would fall outside of this will of God.

Let me offer an example. Joseph's brothers first threatened to kill him, then sold him into slavery. It is not possible to call that "God's will" in either the sense that He would desire it ("Wow, I sure wish Joseph's brothers would toss him in a well and sell him off as slave.") or that it was in line with His commandments (as evidenced by the fact that they lied to their father about it). It was not in line with God's will in those senses. However, in the end, this sin saved his family and the Jewish race. So we hear Joseph say to his brothers, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." There are multiple things in play in that sentence. First, they are not off the hook. It was evil and they are liable. Second, God planned for it to happen to bring about an end that He wanted. He didn't cause it. He allowed it because it fit with His plans. Third, He didn't merely work it out. "Oh, my, that's a bad thing! Now, how can I work this out so it becomes good?" No, He meant it for good. He used their sin for His plan.

Of course, there is a much better example. The sin of Joseph's brothers was minor compared to this one. This example is the murder of God's innocent Son. About this we read:
"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed -- for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:26-28).
On one hand, then, we have the very clear indictment that these people had set themselves against God, and on the other hand we have the undeniable claim that they carried out "whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place", an undeniable example of both evil and "God's will".

Logically, then, if the Bible is true when it claims that God is the only Sovereign and if it is true that God works all things after the counsel of His will, then it is unavoidably true that all things that occur fall within God's will in some sense. Biblically we know that 1) God states His will in ways that do not come to pass and 2) God works all things after His will. Experience tells us that some things will be a violation of His wishes (like people that aren't saved) and some things will violate His precepts (like committing known sin). But if we have a God who simply has things that occur outside of His ultimate, Sovereign will, then He is not Sovereign and we are without hope because the Creator has succumbed to the creation.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Possessions and Hyperbole

A few years ago I wrote a series on "Hard Sayings", including one on Jesus's words, "Sell all your possessions." That one recently sparked some discussion about how I was being hypocritical in my interpretation of the very clear words of Jesus and, if I were to be consistent, I'd need to sell all my possessions, and it was only my refusal to do that that made me read it as something else. Fine. Then, a local Christian radio talk show brought up the very same discussion this last week. Is it required of Christians to sell their possessions? Are we, if we are to be Christians or, at least, good Christians, required to be in poverty? The question comes from these types of passages and the frequency at which they are offered. Could it be that Christians in America are skipping directly over the very clear demand of Scripture that we should be in poverty simply because we don't want to be? I believe it is worth examining.

Is it possible that we are skipping over the very clear words of Scripture because we don't want to do it? Absolutely! And you ought to determine whether or not you fall in that category. Very important!

Moving on (for those of you who determine "No, I don't think I fall in that category"), this discussion ties in with some of the recent discussions regarding Hebrews 6 where the author of Hebrews claims that it is impossible to renew someone to repentance if they reject it. I held that it was intended as written. Others claimed it was hyperbole. I see nothing in the passage that calls for hyperbole. So, what about this passage: "Sell all your possessions"?

Here's my problem with taking that at face value. It presents insurmountable problems. We know, for instance, that Jesus owned a very particular garment, you know, the one that they gambled for when He was being crucified. It was something He owned. He didn't sell it. So, apparently Jesus didn't sell all His possessions. And it wasn't just Him. Peter owned a house. Paul was a tentmaker and apparently owned the tools and materials necessary to make tents. In one instance, Jesus told His disciples to acquire things for a missionary journey. Jesus never told His fishermen disciples to sell their boats. In other words, if "Sell all your possessions" was to be the Christian mandate, it was sure ignored by Jesus and His prime followers. Clearly, then, at least the "all" in this phrase isn't meant to mean "actually all". That is, no human being can survive on this planet without possessing something, if only clothes and food.

Okay, so maybe "all" doesn't actually mean "all" in this instance. Maybe that was hyperbole. But surely it seems that the purpose of that hyperbole was to convey that we should be in poverty, right? Sure, sure, own those bottom-line basics, but you cannot justify any Christian being rich, can you? (And, face it, folks, there isn't a "poor" Christian in America compared with the rest of the world.)

Well, the thing that really spurred this post was what I read just the other day in Paul's epistle to Timothy.
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Tim 6:17-19).
Do you see the problem? If the biblical standard for Christians, as suggested by Jesus's words to the rich young ruler and His repeated comments about "Sell all your possessions", is poverty, then Paul really made a royal mess of this passage, didn't he? He leaves some unnecessarily complicated instructions here regarding "the rich in this present age" (as opposed to those who are rich in heavenly ways). Don't be haughty. Don't set their hopes on riches. Do good. Be rich in good works. Yada, yada, yada. Paul, Paul, hang on here. This is much easier than all that. Just tell them, "Sell it all" and the whole thing goes away. Sheesh! It's not that hard!

No, Paul did not tell them to sell it all. He told them to do good, to not rely on their riches, and to be ready to share. He told them to have an "other-world" perspective, not holding onto the things of this world, but using them as God supplies for good.

I understood Jesus's words, "Sell all your possessions", to mean "Don't make your possessions your god." I understood Him to mean "Don't possess anything. Be willing to give it all up." I understood Him to say, "Don't own anything; it is all to be tools for God's use." I understood Jesus's words to mean essentially what Paul told Timothy about the rich. I understood it to be hyperbole. I understood it to be hyperbole based on the contradictions to what He and His disciples did. I understood it to be hyperbole based on passages like this 1 Timothy one that did not mandate that the rich become poor. I did not see it as hyperbole because I'm unwilling to be poor; it was the texts that drove me to it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Standard?

Recently overheard: "How did you like the new church?" "Oh, it was great! We both cried."

I've been told before, "If you tell people that the Bible teaches that, it will push them away from Christianity."

"If it feels good, do it."

By what standard do we determine what is right and wrong, good and bad? It appears that the standard set by the world of the '60's has become the standard of determining right and wrong for all of us ... or at least most. "If it feels good."

As I said, it was only overheard, so I wasn't able to respond, but I wanted to ask so badly, "When did 'we both cried' become the criterion for good church?" Apparently so many of us now determine if a church is good or bad by whether or not we have the appropriate emotional response. If it doesn't "move me", it isn't good. If I feel something that I deem is appropriate from the service, then it is good. Really?

I had a conversation awhile ago with a woman who was preaching at her church. I asked, "On what do you base your idea that this is okay?" She asked, of course, why I asked, and I pointed out the Scripture that said it wasn't right. "Oh, that can't mean that," she told me. "If a person feels a calling from God, it wouldn't be right to stand in the way." I see. If we feel called to do something, then it's the right thing to do.

Lots of people today determine "good theology" by how people react to it. "You know, telling people they're sinners just makes them mad." It doesn't feel good to hear that stuff. "Good theology", then, is theology that makes people feel better about God and about themselves. You know, stuff like "God loves you" is good, but stuff like "God makes demands" is bad. Telling people "It is God's will that everyone be saved" is good, but telling them, "Some will not" is bad. Don't tell homosexuals that their activity is against the Bible because that will only alienate them and making them feel bad is not good theology. Don't tell women that the Bible forbids women taking authority from men because that will just make them feel lesser and feeling that way is not good theology. Don't tell people that Christ is the only way because that sounds arrogant and people don't like arrogant.

When did "how I feel about it" become the standard of morality, the determiner of truth? I suppose it has always been the way to some segments, but it is now largely the standard for those who claim to be followers of Christ. These followers of Christ, then, take up positions opposed to Christ because these positions feel much better than those ones that align with Christ and figure out ways to change it so Christ agrees with them. Oh ... that sounds bad, doesn't it? Yeah, actually, it is.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I love my wife

This isn't the first time I've made this statement on my blog. And I don't think it's too trivial to repeat. However, I recently made an interesting discovery that reinforced this fact -- I love my wife. The method of discovery was a bit odd, so bear with me.

In a typical month my wife might ask me to drop by the local pharmacy to pick up some prescription that's ready or some such. Fairly common. I'm happy to do it. And when I run the errand she asks of me, I will often walk down the "treats aisle" of whatever store I'm at to see if there's something there just for me, a treat, you know, for being a nice guy. Without fail, I will not buy said treats because my desire for something nice just for me is drowned out by "Do I really want to bother paying for it?" and "I don't really want it that bad" and "It's not really that good for me" and that sort of stuff. Or so I thought.

Recently we acquired some new "house guests". Instead of it just being the two of us in the house, we suddenly have a crowd including very young children. My wife is busy ... busier than she's ever been. She works from dawn to dusk and beyond trying to watch children and keep the house from total annihilation and counsel adults and ... well, she's pretty busy. And when I went to pick up something for her at the store, I did my typical "treat aisle" run ... and was overwhelmed by the "need" to get something just for me. The strength of the desire was somewhat shocking to me. And there were similar things going on in various parts of my life. Very odd!

Do you want to know what I discovered when I analyzed it? My wife is an amazing woman. She isn't extravagant or overt, but she does hundreds of little things in our marriage to keep me satisfied. They're not "loud". You likely wouldn't notice. Still, she is constantly in the process of doing things that say to me, "You're special." My wife has an amazing ability to keep me satisfied. That's why, when I would run down the typical "treat aisle", I would have no compulsion to actually treat myself. Right now she has her attentions drawn from normal living, but under normal circumstances I didn't need something special just for me because I was already being treated as special. That's why I didn't need what most men seem to need -- something that is just for me. It was because she always made me feel that I was special to her.

Now, you can brag about your beauty queen wife or talk about your loving wife or whatever you want. That's good. My wife is, in my book, of the highest caliber. She keeps me satisfied. She doesn't do it with words, but with deeds. She doesn't do it by being a doormat or in some fawning way (which would simply destroy the concept for me), but in quiet ways you likely wouldn't be conscious of. A little special something from the store there. A willingness to watch whatever I got from the video store here. The freedom to spend an hour on the computer without nagging me about it over there. Little things that say repeatedly, "I love you and you're special" without flying the flags that demand recognition for it. My wife keeps me satisfied, and that, dear readers, is one of the highest compliments a husband can pay his wife in my book.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are you lost?

Back in July I provided two lists of Scripture on a single topic that appeared to contradict each other. I asked my readers to figure out how to put them together -- not to mitigate one set or another, but to make them fit together. The topic of these passages was also yesterday's topic (although yesterday I wrote about a single passage) -- losing your salvation.

I don't plan today to visit all those passages from the two lists and explain how they fit together (and I do believe they fit together). What I want to do is ask a more basic question. To do this, you might want to reread those passages. I'll wait ...

All fresh in your mind now? Good. There is something overall in these two lists that strikes me as quite significant. In the first list we read all about what it is you have to do to avoid losing salvation. You have to bear fruit and stand firm and be ready and be obedient and practice self-discipline and remain faithful and avoid intentional sin ... well, you get the idea ... and you're likely aware of all that anyway. But I note that this first list is about all we are supposed to do or not do. The second list stands in stark difference. The second list doesn't talk about what we must do; it talks about what God will do. He upholds, gives eternal life, does not condemn, keeps, justifies, makes stand, seals, completes, and so much more. The primary difference, then, between these two lists is not whether or not you can lose your salvation, but who you are talking about.

I have a favorite passage that seems to encapsulate these two lists in just two verses.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).
The first part is a command about what we need to do, and it's not trivial. "Work out your own salvation." No, not just that. Do it "with fear and trembling". This is serious ... and frightening. But it's not the end of the thought. How are we to carry out this serious and scary thing? "It is God who is at work in you." What is God doing? He is giving us both the willingness and the ability to do what He wants us to do, to do what pleases Him.

Right there, balanced together, you find a summary of both of those lists. There is work for us to do. There is no doubt. It is serious work and it is frightening. Still, do it. How? Well, in the final analysis, you'll find it was God who did it in you. He didn't have faith in your ability to do what pleases Him. He made sure you would and could do it.

And on the question of losing one's salvation, it really does come down to this, doesn't it? One set of passages are warnings aimed at you. The other set are confidently hung on God and what He does. If salvation can be lost, it is because of your incompetence. If salvation is sure, it is because of Him and His abilities. You can choose to believe either direction. I cannot help but hang my hat on God's sovereignty. I know that I'm incompetent, but I know His marvelous character far exceeds the depths of my failings. That's the place where I find rest.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Losing my religion

This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim 1:18-20).
If you've ever been in a discussion regarding the possibility of a Christian losing their salvation (or some variation thereof), this passage has likely come up. This, we are told, is a clear example of two believers who lost their salvation. (Or who surrendered their salvation.) Clear enough. Now what? I would ask that you take a moment to walk through this with me because I'm not so sure it's as clear as some would like it to be.

What do we know? We know that two guys, Hymenaeus and Alexander, did something that "made shipwreck of their faith". Most people leap immediately to "lost their salvation", but I'd hold off on that. What do we know? Okay, so we know they "made shipwreck of their faith". We know that they did it by rejecting one or both of these concepts: 1) hold the faith, and 2) hold a good conscience. And we know Paul's remedy: "I have handed [them] over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." That's what we know. The rest requires evaluation. Did these two guys lose their salvation? I'd ask you to avoid jumping to that conclusion before we look it over.

There are other things that will play into this discussion, other things we know from Scripture. One thing we ought to consider is the phrase, "handed over to Satan". The concept occurs in another place in Paul's writings. In his first epistle to the Corinthians there was a case of serious, unrepented sexual immorality. On this Paul instructs, "When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Cor 5:4-5). The purpose of this drastic concept, then, was not death and damnation, but "that his spirit may be saved" -- salvation. We have the same process here in 1 Timothy. These two men were being handed over to Satan, not so they would be damned, but so that they would learn.

The other passage that comes to bear here is found in Hebrews 6. Almost all proponents of the concept that salvation can be lost or surrendered will look to this passage as proof. Oddly, almost all proponents of this concept ignore what this passage says.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt (Heb 6:4-6).
Given that we are talking about a true believer here, the passage explains what happens when this true believer becomes apostate ("fallen away"). While they like to point to this as proof that a true believer can be apostate, they deny the ramification: "It is impossible ... to restore them again to repentance." There are those who argue "Once saved, always saved." This passage argues "Once lost, always lost."

So, back to Hymenaeus and Alexander. We know that they made shipwreck of their faith. If that means that they lost their salvation, then Paul was acting foolishly on at least two counts. First, if they lost their salvation, they already belonged to Satan. If they already belonged to Satan, by what authority and for what purpose would Paul want to give them to ... the one who already had them? That makes no sense. The other problem is why? What would giving them to the one who already owned them accomplish? They were permanently damned (Heb 6). There was no hope. Teaching them not to blaspheme was fine, I guess, but it served no ultimate purpose since they had no hope. They were the walking damned. Punishing damned people by turning them over to the one who is already their master just doesn't seem reasonable.

Is it possible, then, that this passage does not reference lost salvation? It is possible, I think, to understand "made shipwreck of their faith" to mean something other than "lost salvation". It could mean that they had run aground in terms of their faith. Like Abraham of old who had God's promise to make a nation out of him and then lied (multiple times) about his wife for fear that he would be killed, these two may have lost sight of their faith ("made shipwreck of their faith") and needed correction, not damnation. This is a coherent understanding of the phrase, and given the problems with 1) handing over to Satan and 2) the permanence of lost salvation, I think it is the most coherent understanding of the phrase.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


The term "doxology" is simply a short saying that is intended to be in praise of God. The word comes from a Greek word, doxologos, where doxa means "glory or praise" and logos is "word or speaking". Thus, a doxology is speaking glory.

We're familiar (at least most of us ... today, I wonder) with The Doxology. You know ... "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" and so on. But the Bible is full of doxologies, little bursts of praise to God. They seem to appear when the author gets overwhelmed with the glory of God and simply bursts out in praise. Here are just a few of my favorites:
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 to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith -- to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen (Rom 16:25-27).

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Eph 3:20-21).

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen (1 Tim 1:17).

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 1:24-25).
What about you? Do you ever get so overwhelmed by the glory of God that you feel like breaking out into praise? You should. So why not go out and find some of your own favorite doxologies. The Scripture is full of good ones. Or ... write your own. I mean, what could be better than spending time in the praise of God's glory?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Puzzlers from Thessalonians II

Yesterday I gave you a passage from 2 Thessalonians -- 2 Thess 2:1-12. You may want to re-read it. My questions yesterday were about the pre-Trib Rapture concept and how this popular passage fits (or doesn't). The passage in question holds a second set of statements that I found interesting. I'll just list the text in question here, but remember the context -- the coming of the Man of Lawlessness:
8 That lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2 Thess 2:8-12).
This question isn't about the Man of Lawlessness. This one is about two puzzling aspects of this text.

Paul uses an odd phrase here. He references "the deception of wickedness for those who perish." That is, those who perish do so because they were deceived by wickedness. Clear enough. But Paul goes on to explain why they were deceived: "Because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." It's an odd phrase. The Greek word is dechomai and is literally "to receive". It is contrasted with lambano which means "to obtain or take". The former is more passive than the latter. Paul is saying here that those who were ultimately deceived by wickedness were not able to recover from that deception because they were never given the gift of the love of the truth. Without that gifting, they had no love of the truth and couldn't escape the deception of evil.

As if that phrase isn't curious enough, Paul throws in a second concept that is even more difficult. "God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness" (2 Thess 2:11-12). Not only did these people not receive a love of the truth, but God sent a deluding influence. Wow!

Note, first, that it does not say that God deluded them. It doesn't say that God lied to them. It says that He sent a deluding influence. Second, I should point out that this isn't the first time God did this. In 1 Kings 22:23 we read "The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets." It's the same kind of thing. God didn't lie, but when a spirit in His presence offered to deceive Ahab's false prophets, God sent him.

For so many in our current Christian climate human beings are the "top dog". Human Free Will is the ultimate decider on the planet. Not even God will transgress that. And, while we sure could use some help, in the final analysis human beings possess within themselves all that is required to recognize, embrace, and place their faith in the truth. Aren't we special? But Paul here (and elsewhere) seems to disagree. He seems to think that humans lack a basic love of the truth and it has to be given to them. We like to think that God is obligated in some sense to His creation to save as many as possible because we are so special, but Paul says that God even perpetuates delusion in the case of those who are deceived by wickedness. "Now, look, God, that's not right. You're supposed to be trying to save as many as you possibly can. This can't mean what it says." Or can it? Could it be that our current Christian climate is wrong about humans, their ultimate Free Will, and God's intent to save as many as He possibly can? You decide.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Puzzlers from Thessalonians

I have found lots of interesting things as I have been reading through Thessalonians, but in 2 Thessalonians I've found some puzzling things. Odd that they occur in one passage:
1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? 6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2 Thess 2:1-12).
I'll cover the two things I see here over two posts, so be sure to come back tomorrow for some more puzzlement from Thessalonians.

The text is familiar to most pre-millenial pre-Trib Rapture folks. The topic is "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him". That part of eschatology (the study of end times) is popular to this group. So we (I will include myself because I was a member of that group for so long) busy ourselves going through passages like these explaining how they fit into this pre-Trib Rapture scheme. And what do we learn? Well, there is this person called "the man of lawlessness". Most of us know him as "the Antichrist" (even though the term "antichrist" is only listed in John's epistles). Of "him" John says, "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come" (1 John 2:18). No, wait ... is that plural? How odd! So there are a plurality of "antichrists". Not what we usually think, but, okay. So here in Thessalonians we're talking about ... what ... the last one? And why do we assume that "the man of lawlessness" is "The Antichrist"? Move on, Stan.

What else do we know? We know that there will first be an apostasy before the man of lawlessness is revealed. We know that he will exalt himself above every other god. We know that he will sit in the temple of God. Practically verbatim, that. Of course, there is a problem that we all know: There is no current "temple of God". Thus, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem is mandatory for the pre-Trib Rapture scheme. I mean, how can the Antichrist sit in the Temple of God if there is no Temple? I suppose, then, that we can all rest easy because as long as Israel hasn't taken back the Temple mount, Christ won't be returning. Wait ... isn't that problematic?

What else does Paul say? This one is well-known, even if it's not agreed upon. We all know that there is something or someone (it says "he") who "now restrains". Someone or something is keeping back the onset of the man of lawlessness. Once that someone or something is taken out of the way, this whole process can begin. There have been debates about that restraining influence. Some argue that it is, very clearly, the Church. Once the Church is gone (AKA "Rapture"), the Antichrist will be able to take power. Of course, that's problematic because "the Church" is defined as "the Body of Christ", and we all know that there will be those who come to Christ in the Tribulation, so "the Church" will still be there. "No, no," others assure us, "that refers to the Holy Spirit." It's the Holy Spirit who is restraining, and when He is taken out the Antichrist can start. Remembering that there will be some coming to Christ in the Tribulation, this view assumes that it is fully possible for people to come to Christ with no influence from the Holy Spirit (since He is apparently out). That doesn't make sense. But the problem here is that Paul says, "You know what restrains him now." Wait, Paul ... no we don't. We can't agree on this and most of the answers don't actually make sense when they're analyzed. We don't know. Problems.

All of this discussion about what will happen in our unknown future (but apparently after the Temple is rebuilt) misses one very important statement here. In verse 7, Paul writes "The mystery of lawlessness is already at work." It seems from this (and the rest of the passage) that Paul is not writing about someone in our unknown future, but about someone in his very near future. That's why the Thessalonians knew who was restraining him. That's why Paul was even telling them about something that would occur in the future. (Note that all of what he wrote here suggests "in your future", not "in some far distant future". In fact, why would Paul write this as if it's in their future if it wasn't in their future?)

To the common pre-Trib Rapture believer, this is all quite clear, straightforward, obvious. We've heard the explanations and in our eagerness we've swallowed them without critical questions. To me, the answers we've been given aren't quite so clear as we'd like to think. Was Paul talking about an event in the future that no one who was writing or reading it at the time would ever see? Why was he so cryptic about this restraining? If this event wasn't for 2000+ years, in what sense was the "mystery of lawlessness" already at work in Paul's day? I'm not offering answers here; just questions. It just doesn't seem to fit as nicely into the pre-Trib Rapture agenda as I've been told it does, and I'm curious.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Parenting Models

I was reading in 1 Thessalonians this week. I was interested at Paul's perspective on mothers and fathers:
We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us (1 Thess 2:7-8).

You know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (1 Thess 2:11-12).
Two approaches, one person. In Paul's view, mothers take care of their children. They are affectionate and consider them dear. They are not the ones who exhort or command as much as nurture. Fathers have a different role. They aren't expected to be affectionate and endearing. They are expected to exhort, encourage, and charge their children.

Obviously, both parents are supposed to operate from a motivation of love. Apparently Paul believed that love can express itself in largely different ways, and that genders tend to have different expressions of love. Husbands and fathers, don't expect your wife to treat your children the same way you do. Wives and mothers, don't expect your husband to treat your children the same way you do. And, parents, just because your counterpart doesn't treat your children in the same manner doesn't mean that they aren't loving the kids.

God has a plan. He designed us in special ways. One person doesn't give a full-fledged perspective. God designed us so that a mother gives one perspective and a father gives another and together they provide a fuller Parent than a single parent could do. He's pretty smart that way.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Dichotomy of Hell

Dichotomy: division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups.

I already wrote about hell in a recent post. I defended the notion. It seems unavoidable from Scripture. I stand by it. However, I have to admit that the concept of Hell carries with it a certain dichotomy, an apparent contradiction.

I explained that Hell was basically separation from God. It's hard to avoid that conclusion. Jesus, talking to those who claimed to work for Him but never did, said, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt 7:23). At the end of Revelation, John describes the New Jerusalem -- our standard perspective on heaven. He says, "Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood" (Rev 22:15). There is a view that says that Hell is simply the presence of God for people who hate God, and that would be torment. But how does that take into account these passages that talk about separation, not proximity?

So what's the problem? I have passages that tell me there is a separation from God. And why would anyone suggest otherwise? Well, the reason for such a suggestion is the problem. You see, if God is indeed omnipresent -- actually present everywhere -- then God is present in Hell. I know ... we've been told that's the domain of Satan. (Don't believe it. Nothing in the Bible supports that.) But if God is everywhere, He is there, too. So ... now we have a problem, don't we? If Jesus said "Depart from Me", but God is anywhere else you might go, how is Hell a separation from God?

There are a couple of given difficulties when we examine human concepts of God. One of the problems of human-to-God relations is this problem of finite v. infinite. Simply by definition, the finite cannot fully grasp the infinite. So when the demand is, "You must fully explain God", the demand is irrational. No human can fully understand or explain God. The second difficulty is that, being human, we can only relate to God in ways that we know. In other words, we can only work from our own perspective. God may (likely does) have a whole variety of aspects outside of our comprehension, but we can't see, understand, or even discuss them because we can only look at things from our own perspective. The truth is that all we can know about God is what He chooses to reveal to us about Himself, and we can only understand them from the things we know.

Well, here's what I know. I know that it is possible to be present and apart at the same time. You know how that can work. You know people who are lonely in a room full of people. You've had relationships with people where you are sharing the same space but there is a gulf between you. You're in the same geographical location, but you're not connected. Maybe you're mad or maybe the conversation is outside of your area of understanding or ... lots of reasons. But we're already familiar, as humans, of this odd dichotomy of being present but apart.

Since this oddity is something we can understand from our own experience, I don't see why it's so hard to understand from God's perspective. There are a variety of views on what Hell is in Christendom. Some argue it doesn't exist. That requires a presupposition that the Bible cannot be trusted and that what we have today is a modified Bible. Let's not go there. Some argue that "Hell" simply references the annihilation of those who die without Christ. This doesn't line up with the eternal torment passages ... primarily from the lips of Christ Himself. Some argue that it is eternal torment away from God and some (primarily Eastern Orthodox) argue that it is eternal torment in the presence of God. I would argue, from those last two ideas, that the right answer is "Yes!". God is omnipresent, so no one can be actually outside of God's presence. On the other hand, if you are one who loves God, being in His unadulterated presence would be sheer joy. If, on the other hand, you're one who hates God (Rom 8:5-8), then being in His presence would be agony. There would be a separation, not of geography, but of a different kind, and being one who loves the darkness forced into eternal light would be eternal torment. So I would say that it would be eternal separation from God in some sense.

Let me try explaining it from this approach. We've all heard the classic Jewish blessing: "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace" (Num 6:24-26). That's the standard biblical definition of "blessing" -- God's face is turned toward you. The standard biblical definition, then, of "curse" is not some "evil eye" or some such. It is simply the reverse of the blessing -- God's face is turned away from you. If you want peace, grace, security, and joy, you want God's face toward you. If God's face is turned away, there is no peace, grace, security, or joy. Now, consider this: In which of these two scenarios -- God's face turned toward you and God's face turned away from you -- is God not there? One is eternal joy and one is eternal torment, but God is present in both. The separation in this description is not geographical; it is relational. Does that help?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Risk -- not the game

Over at Wintery Knight you can find an article about an article about (no, I didn't stutter) the effect of no-fault divorce on our society. The article itself is interesting and I appreciate Wintery Knight bringing it up. But he concludes with this thought:
I recommend to every man considering marriage to spend at least one day listening to family court trials. Then ask yourself. Is it worth it? Marriage may have made sense before feminism, but it makes no sense now. Why take the risk of being financially destroyed, separated from your own children, and possibly imprisoned? Wait until women turn away from feminism and clean up their mess. The risks are too great.
Now, I honestly am not writing this to discuss either the merits of the article or the merits of Mr. Knight's (Wintery to his friends) conclusion. I am simply using it to point to a bigger question. Here's the question: How much does risk play into our decisions as Christians?

Look around you. The article I mentioned talks about how tough it is these days financially and more when marriages crumble. The conclusion is "The risks are too great", and I can understand that. Divorce rates are around 50%. Crime rates are bad. Economics are rotten. Our lives are a pile of risk. Then there's the whole turn society is taking these days to make it illegal for you to have a viewpoint that says that homosexual behavior is a sin. Yes, illegal. It is moving toward the "hate crime" label. So if you hold that position, you are at risk. Or maybe you're one of us who believe that it is mandatory for a loving parent to use spanking as a necessary tool for discipline. That is almost universally viewed as child abuse these days, and if you do it, you are taking a risk. The whole home-schooling group of parents know that they are constantly at risk because of certain elements of our society believe it is bad (morally evil, not just unwise) to allow parents to be the sole determiner of what their children learn. It's brainwashing, don't you know? So home-schoolers continue to take risks.

I could go on, but you're getting the idea, I hope. As Christians, we live in a perilous place. On one hand we have commands from God that tell us to do things that are not entirely acceptable in today's world. On the other, the world is opposed. In 2004, eleven Christians were arrested in Philadelphia (ironic, isn't it, since "philadelphia" means "brotherly love"). They were charged with criminal conspiracy, possession of instruments of crime, reckless endangerment of another person, ethnic intimidation, riot, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, and obstructing highways. (The "ethnic intimidation" was because Pennsylvania has an "Ethnic Intimidation and Institutional Vandalism Act" which classifies "sexual orientation" as an ethnicity.) Their crime? They were preaching the Gospel at an event called "Outfest" celebrating homosexual behavior. Risky.

Some people are questioning the viability of basic structures like marriage or even the Church. Are you concerned about that? So many places are seeing a watering down of the Gospel until it is no longer the Gospel. Does that worry you? It is said, these days, that a good church is hard to find. Is that a concern? Someone asked me a few years ago, "Where will it all end? What happens if Christianity disappears?" And I could understand his fears.

Do we make our choices based on that kind of risk? Do we determine what we will do based on these factors? Now, it is true that we are to count the cost. That's only wise. Know the risks. That's only reasonable. Still, when we are commanded to preach the Gospel or to honor marriage or to recognize sin as sin, the risks become secondary. Obedience is primary. After all, while many people live in a random world run by coincidence and chaos, we don't. Ours is a world ordered by God, held together in Christ, without a maverick molecule. You may think it looks like the end, but it's not. Remember, then, obedience first because God is in charge and should be obeyed and will command the outcome. Risk is secondary.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Little Charles in Charge

I told you recently about some cases where parents ended up doing whatever their small children demanded in order to keep peace in their little worlds. It's all too common. The result, it would seem, is a reversal of the biblical command, "Children, obey your parents." We are seeing more and more families run by tyrants too young to cross the street alone. And their subjects are bigger, stronger, and better informed than they are. Still, they rule. Why is that?

I already suggested one reason. The primary goal of too many parents is not the welfare of the children or the bringing up of the next generation. The primary motivation is peace. "I don't want to hear all that screaming, don't want to deal with the conflict, so I'll give you what you want to shut you up." Really, bottom line, the motivation is "Me" with a capital "m". "I want to be immediately comfortable with the minimum of effort." Or, in terms of antonyms, the primary motivation is the opposite of love.

The problem, however, is only made worse (I wanted to say "exacerbated", but it sounds so ... pretentious and dirty) by today's messages that our entire society is sending to our little children. It started some time ago. Consider, for example, the Smurfs. Originally a comic book in the '50's, The Smurfs was fed to our kids in the '80's as a cartoon series. Consider the basic premise of this group of small blue creatures. The only good creature is a small creature -- all large adults are evil. (Some human children weren't so bad.) While the world is a mess, the Smurf society is a genuine communist society, sharing all they have with each other and living in a kind community. In other words, Smurfs = good, those who are running today's world = bad. Sound familiar?

Think about the kids in most media provided for kids. The children are generally brats as a default. They are always wiser than the adults in the given situation. There is no discipline in most cases. If "discipline" is portrayed, it is offered as abusive. The real goal is to make the children immediately happy and anyone that gets in the way of that is summarily evil. Interestingly, in most cases anyone represented as "Christian" is a bad person with overbearing views and unkind attitudes ... you know, not like those kindly Hindus or Buddhists.

We keep feeding our kids television (a dangerous medium regardless of the content) and movies and books filled with "warm stories" that affirm that they are the most important beings on the planet and any adult who gets in the way is evil. Well, actually, most adults are too stupid to be evil. We teach by action and lack of action that this view is right. We know that what parents allow in moderation kids indulge in excess, but we still move the standards toward more and more excess. And then we wonder why teachers can't teach with more than 10 kids in a classroom and why businesses really don't want children in their establishment and why it's much better to do your social interaction over the computer rather than in the company of the whole family with those little hellions running around. We can see easily why marketing is aimed at little kids these days, since little kids (and not their parents) control the purse strings. We live in a world where training up your children in the way they should go is considered by a growing number of adults to be abusive. "Just let them bloom where they are planted." When "I want" becomes the command for action and children are no longer taught that selfishness is a bad thing, we're headed for some serious problems. Oh ... wait ... look around you. Perhaps "headed" is the wrong word.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Will of God

Lots of Christians wonder, "What is the will of God for my life?" I'm here to help. Let me clear that one up for you. (Kind, aren't I?)

Most of you probably know this passage. (If you don't, you didn't read one of my recent posts on the subject.)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5:16-18).
There you have it, straight from the mouth of God. God's will for you is to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all circumstances. Clear enough?

Lesser known but, interestingly, in the same letter, Paul uses this phrase "this is the will of God for you" in another passage.
This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness (1 Thess 4:3-7).
It can be boiled down to one word -- sanctification -- but Paul doesn't leave that word without explanation. This is holiness -- being set apart from sin for God -- but it has specific components. First, abstain from sexual immorality, a broad concept that would include everything from sex outside of marriage to looking at a woman with lust (or, in today's vernacular, pornography). Overall, know self-control. Your body should honor God, not operate by your desires. And you ought to be doing all you can to help your fellow Christians in this regard, first by not providing temptations in this regard (ladies, this would be of key importance to you toward men) and second by supporting them in this process of sanctification -- self-control and abstinence from sexual immorality. (Why is it that so few guys work at supporting each other in this arena, a common problem among most males? Seems like we should be working together on this, not trying to hash it out in our own private and often failing little corners.)

Okay, let's see where we are. What is God's will for your life? Holiness. Good. Okay. That includes rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances. It includes running from sexual immorality, learning self-control, and assisting each other in the process. Now, am I saying that this is all of God's will for your life? No, of course not. He has other things in mind, too. No, I'm not saying that's it. Here's what I'm suggesting. You get that little list of known factors in God's will for you mastered, and then you can start to wonder about the rest. How's that? Any help?

Saturday, October 17, 2009


By now most of us have heard the term -- "Ponzi scheme". Named for Charles Ponzi who used the technique back in the '20's, the idea is fairly simple. Get two investors. Pay the first investor back with "interest" using money from the second investor. Pocket a sum of the cash, then show people how much money the first investor made so they'll invest, too. Pay the second investor back with money from the new investors. Pocket more cash and then ... And so on. If it looks good enough, the scheme can go on for a long time as new investors pay off old investors (without knowing it), but, obviously, without any real investments going on, eventually there won't be enough money for Peter to pay off Paul ... literally.

Ponzi did it to some "small" amount in his day, got caught, and went to jail. Bernie Madoff pulled in something like $65 billion and is now in prison. But Ponzi and Madoff were not the only ones. The con happened before Ponzi did it and has happened around the world. Lots of people are hoping to make a fast buck and will believe the lie that this guy can do it, and lots of people are hoping to make their own fast buck by stealing money from investors.

The question I have, though, is not about investors and con artists. It's not quite the Ponzi scheme. It just seems a little too close to the scheme to ignore. Consider this fictional example. In this hypothetical scheme, people are not offered the option of investing. They are required to invest. The return on investment, they are told, will be a better life for all, and what they invest ought to cover it just fine. Now, other investigators say, "No, no, that won't cover it! 'A better life for all' is going to be much, much more expensive!" But the scheme is in place and the investors are not investors by choice and the decisions are made. So the investors pay in first because they have to but also because they're told that this will make life better and their contribution will cover the cost. As it turns out, the investigators are right. The money dropped into the investment scheme doesn't cover the cost of the scheme. More money is needed. As in the Ponzi scheme, this payment due is shuffled off to new investors (or old investors paying in more money) who didn't ask to be investors, don't much care about the "better life for all", and don't have an option to not invest. The costs rise and the debts rise and now the investor pool has to rise, extending beyond the existing investors to the next generation of investors who need to support their own investments as well as pay off the debts of the previous generation of investors. The primary difference between this hypothetical scheme and the Ponzi scheme, it seems, is that it's not operated by greed, but by coercion. False promises are made. Investments are required. And the demand for payback exceeds the ability to pay it back.

Of course, the Ponzi scheme is illegal and those who get caught doing it go to jail. This other hypothetical scheme includes such plans as "universal health care" and these perpetrators are hailed as heroes and forward-thinking politicians. Oh, and while the cost of some Ponzi schemes may extend into the billions, the cost of these "hypothetical" schemes could exceed the trillions. But, since the former scheme is voluntary and greed-based and the latter scheme is "humanitarian", it's clear that the latter scheme is a good one ... right?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Not-Too-Bright God

Yeah, yeah, we Christians all know that our God is omniscient. Well, most of us know that. Okay, so maybe there's more of a question there than we realized. Take, for instance, the "God" of Open Theism. This "God" cannot know what will happen tomorrow. He can only know what has already happened. You see, He's not able to see what humans will choose to do until humans choose to do it. Okay, so that's an extreme view, and most of us on the "non-Open-Theism" side consider it heretical. Still, I'm surprised at the number of ways we believers find to tell God, "You're not too bright, God, are you?"

I was talking to someone recently about a common acquaintance and her marital difficulties. I said, "Yeah, I hope they can work those problems out and get back together." She said, "Oh, no! That would be horrible! He's such a loser! The best thing she can do is move on with her life!" I was stunned. We both know that God hates divorce. We both know that marriage is intended for life. Still, apparently God doesn't know what He's doing in this case because if He did He'd be in favor of this split. Not too bright, God.

I was discussing corporal punishment with some friends. They were shocked that I favored it. "It's child abuse!" they assured me. "Wait ... the Bible says that if you don't discipline your children, you don't love them. Hebrews says that God Himself chastens those whom He loves, and if He doesn't chasten you, you're not His child." "Oh," they told me, "that's the old way of seeing things. Haven't you seen the news? Studies show that spanking children lowers their IQ." Wait ... so, here's what you think. God commanded, commended, and practices corporal punishment; unfortunately His views are out of date and we know so much better today. Not too bright, God.

On Oct 11, 2009, President Obama, a self-described Christian, addressed the HRC on the topic of gay rights. Here is part of what he said:
My expectation is that when you look back on these years, you will see a time in which we put a stop to discrimination against gays and lesbians — whether in the office or on the battlefield. You will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men or two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman. You will see a nation that’s valuing and cherishing these families as we build a more perfect union — a union in which gay Americans are an important part. I am committed to these goals. And my administration will continue fighting to achieve them. (Source)
If we translate this through biblical eyes, we read something very bizarre. We read that when God said, "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination" (Lev 20:13), He was very much mistaken. The goal, you see, is that these relationships be just as "admirable as relationships between a man and a woman." The idea, apparently, is that God, who back then saw it as an abomination, will see the light, realize how wise His creation has become, and correct His own thinking. Unless You do, you're not too bright, God.

How many ways can you think of that we do this? "Yeah, sure, all things work together for good, but you aren't talking about my situation." "Well, maybe God commands us to share the Gospel wherever we go, but He hasn't worked where I work." "That whole 'wives submit to husbands' thing is so wrong. It was never intended for today." "Everyone knows that Paul's 'I do not permit a woman to teach or usurp authority' thing was a product of his time. Women are much better educated today. It is an outmoded viewpoint." So, so sorry, God, but sometimes you're just not too bright.

I'll tell you what ... you tell Him that. I think I'll try to conform my thinking to His rather than vice versa. Seems safer to me. Because the God I worship actually is omniscient -- much wiser than I.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In Good Company

Remember Abraham? We meet him in Genesis 12 as Abram with God telling him to go to a land God would direct him to. Now, I don't know about you, but I've never received a word from God like that. Abraham did. To the childless man God promised, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen 12:7). Abram's first "response", it seems, is to lie about his wife because she was beautiful and someone might kill him for her. Huh? Abram, you have a direct word from God. What are you thinking?

Or how about Moses? This particular prophet spoke "face to face" (Exo 33:11) with God. So intimate with God was he that his face shown with God's reflected glory. Still, when the people grumbled, he lost his temper, defied God, and ruined his own chance of making it into the Promised Land.

Then there was Samuel, the child set apart from birth to serve God. While living in the temple (1 Sam 3), he was awakened by God's own voice in a time when no one talked to God. There he began service as the last judge of Israel, eventually anointing Israel's first king. When Saul failed to follow God's instructions, God told Samuel to anoint a new king. Samuel was delighted to obey God in what might have been a perilous venture because God had been so intimately connected to him. Right? No, not at all. God said to go anoint a new king, to which Samuel replied, "How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me" (1 Sam 16:2).

One of my all-time favorites is Elijah. You remember him. We first meet Elijah in 1 Kings 17 walking into the Ahab's throne room and declaring "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word" (1 Kings 17:1). Nice! There is no record of God sending Elijah. James tells us "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit" (James 5:17-18). But God honored his prayer and for three years miraculously protected Elijah. First there was the creek where God sent birds to feed him. Then there was the widow's house where God kept them in food every day. When her son died, Elijah prayed him back to life. And finally there was that glorious confrontation between the prophets of Baal and Elijah. They failed miserably in calling down fire from their Fire God although they tried everything all day long. Then, stacking the deck against himself, Elijah finally makes a simple prayer asking for fire -- "Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their hearts back" (1 Kings 18:37). And God answered him, sending fire that consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, the water, and the dirt around the altar. Very definitive answer. The people seized the false prophets. Rain returned to the land. All was well with the world ... until Queen Jezebel sent him a message threatening to kill him. After prayer that stopped rain for 3 years and the long-term, miraculous care of God for 3 years and the raising of the widow's son and the stunning defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and the return of the rain at his word, you would think that Elijah would scoff at such a threat. He was under God's protection. Who was she, after all this, to threaten him? No, Elijah's response was stunning. "He himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree and he asked that he might die, saying, 'It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers'" (1 Kings 19:4).

And so it goes. Isaiah the prophet of God was faced with God Himself and responded "Woe is me! I am undone!" Jeremiah was told all that would happen and, when it did, became known as "the weeping prophet" because of what God did. Habakkuk complained to God about the sin of his people and when God replied, "I plan to judge them", he protested God's response. Peter assured Christ, "I will give my life for you" and within hours denied he even knew him. As the first leader of the new Church, Peter succumbed to the heresy of legalism in Antioch and needed to be rebuked by Paul. Paul considered himself the chief sinner (1 Tim 1:15). All of God's "best servants", it seems, have been losers and failures. Paul says of those who are called "Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor 1:26-27).

Do you ever feel like a failure? Do you ever feel like you're not up to God's standards? Do you ever feel like you're not getting anywhere as a believer? That, while others are doing great things for God, you're not? That it's even possible that God doesn't like you much because you're such a spiritual loser? Well, then, you're in good company. You're standing in the midst of the saints, losers all, who time after time take the best of all possible circumstances from God and mess them up. It has been said that believing in God only qualifies you to be a demon (James 2:19). Messing up on your walk with God, it seems, only qualifies you to be a prophet of God. Or, to put it in terms Paul used, "I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor 12:9). Do you feel like a failure at times? You're in good company. God uses failures all the time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Train up a child

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov 22:6).
Wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Most likely, if you've ever had contact with church, you've heard that one.

Having a new generation of kids in my house, I've been observing firsthand the concept of training up children in today's society. Now, of course it would be foolish to draw conclusions from such a small sample, so I won't. Still, it seems like what I'm seeing is much broader than this sample. The question then: What are we training up our children to do?

My wife and I were waiting with other groups for a table at a restaurant. One of the groups included a mother with a young child. The child was standing on the mom's feet screaming at the top of her lungs for mom to pick her up. Mom was not complying. I thought, "Don't pick her up. You will only teach her that screaming at the top of her lungs will get her what she wants." I followed that immediately with, "Actually, it's most likely that she's doing that now because you've already taught her that and ... yep, you picked her up and affirmed her training."

Once in a corner drugstore I stood in line at the checkout behind a woman with her young son in the basket. He was holding a large toy truck. As she approached the counter, she told him, "You have to put that down now. I only let you hold it to keep you quiet." He understood her reasoning and responded, "No!" She continued to reason with the child. "Mommy doesn't have enough money for that truck. You have to put it down." Recognizing her dilemma, the child answered, "No!" She lapsed into threats. "If you don't put that toy down now, I won't buy you an ice cream." There was hesitation this time, then, "No!" Time for the serious consequences. "If you don't put it down now, I won't take you horseback riding this afternoon." Now, why a three-year-old was going horseback riding this afternoon was moot to me. Apparently the threat was dire because he promptly answered, "No!" As I reached the counter for my turn to checkout, she was handing him the truck (which she apparently did have the money to purchase) and telling him, "Let's go get you an ice cream and then we can go horseback riding." What did he learn? Stand your ground; Mom is not a threat. She will give you whatever you want.

And they learn that well. I was talking once to a high school girl who was friends with my high school girl. I asked the girls, "What percentage of kids in your school have parents who by them cars?" They both answered a very high percentage ... something over 75%. The girl told me, "My parents are buying me a new car for my birthday next month when I turn 16." "Oh," I said, "it must be nice to have parents who love you that much." Her response was stunning, tragic, ... and telling. "Love me? They don't love me. They just want to keep me quiet and out of their hair."

It seems, these days, that parents are no longer interested in training up their children in the way the children should go. They are interested in peace. Do whatever it takes to keep the child from making a scene or disturbing the parents' day. So they set them in front of the TV and buy them whatever they want. The child determines things like bed time and boundaries. The parents assure me, "We just want our little ones to be able to fully express themselves." And they do ... on their feet on the table at the restaurant at the tops of their lungs. Oh, no, that won't do. Now Mom and Dad (assuming this is not one of the more than 30% of children who are not in a single-parent home -- which teaches them other things, doesn't it?) are embarrassed. Time to exert some parenting. "Johnny! Stop that!" hissed loudly. Yeah, that's working. "You're disturbing the patrons." Good stuff! Johnny has now noticed that everyone is looking and victory is his. The parents' weak smile that says "What are you gonna do?" to the rest of the restaurant doesn't really impress me.

I'd like to think that it's just a product of unbelievers. I'd like to think that Christians can read their Bibles and know better. I'd like to think that Christians love their children better than unbelievers do simply by virtue of having that new life and by the power of the Spirit at work in them. Evidence denies what I'd like to think. Evidence suggests that the Christian parents who love their children are rare indeed. Most blindly stick their little ones in front of the television, put them on the computer, teach them that "social networking" is something done in front of a monitor, not in person. They train them to do what it takes to get what they want, that authority is irrelevant, that they should give up nothing. They teach them by example that love is not sacrificial because they don't sacrificially love their spouse. They teach them that the highest thing you should seek is your own self-interest, and means are not important.

The sad truth about Solomon's wise statement on child-rearing is that if you train up a child in any way, he is not likely to deviate from it when he is old. Are you actually training your child(ren)? You are. The question, then, is what are you teaching them by word, deed, and example? I pray for this next generation because it is looking pretty bleak in many quarters.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Corporal Punishment

On more than one occasion I've written about corporal punishment. I know, I know, I'm not in a majority. But I'm guessing that 1) the Bible doesn't have the same authority for the majority that it has for me, and 2) the majority isn't in agreement with God anyway. You have to work pretty hard to move away from the clear support in Scripture for spanking your kids. Still, it is so often misunderstood.

And I understand that ... I really do. By far the most common perception of corporal punishment is that it is brought on by an angry parent. I had a conversation with a coworker years ago who assured me that it was impossible to spank a child without being mad. The other day I pointed out to my daughter, "I don't know if you've noticed, but you've been with us for a month and I haven't yet spanked one of your kids." She said, "Yeah, I noticed. I'm afraid what it will be like when it happens." You see, she was quite sure that when I got angry enough I'd start swatting. I mentioned it to my wife and she said, "Yeah, they haven't pushed you far enough yet." So if you disagree with me regarding spanking and that it isn't necessarily a product of anger, I understand. You're not alone. I'm pretty sure that when I mention it to people, the first thing that comes to mind is the standard angry parent inflicting abuse, not discipline. I get it.

As I tried to explain to my wife, I had rules when I was raising my own -- rules I still carry today. Maybe, just maybe, if I share them with you, you might begin to see that it could be that it is possible to carry out corporal punishment (as I believe is clearly expected in the Bible) without being an angry, abusive parent. So, here it is.

Rule #1: The only valid motivation for discipline of any sort is love. It must be the underlying motivation and the end game. Part of loving your child is to want the best for him or her (or them). So my rules and intentions were always based on important principles, not personal preferences. They needed to learn how to get along in the world, how to face life, how to manage relationships, and that sort of thing. Protecting my own comfort or peace or property was not the issue. I always intended to do the best I could for my children out of love. Or, to put it another way, I was not the issue. I always tried to make it clear to my kids that I disciplined out of love, that I didn't enjoy it, and that I loved them even if I had to discipline them.

Rule #2: Corporal punishment is the last option. It is for a specific situation. Corporal punishment was only one tool in a toolbox of options. A wise parent selects the most effective tool for the job, and spanking is not always that best tool. So I reserved spanking for cases of direct, intentional disobedience. I didn't spank over spilled milk or the like. It was only when it was overt rebellion.

Rule #3: Assume the best. Recognizing Rule #1, one of the characteristics of love, according to 1 Corinthians 13, is that love expects the best of the loved one. So I would always try to assume the best of my children. For first offense, then, I started with the belief that they simply didn't know that they were violating any rules. I explained in ways they would understand as carefully I could what the rule was in that particular case. On the second offense, I would assume that they had simply forgotten. It wasn't intentional; it was accidental. It slipped their minds. So, in this event I would explain the rule again, make sure they understood and remembered, and explained the consequences of a third violation. You see, in a third violation, it would become apparent that it was not ignorance or forgetfulness. It was rebellion.

Rule #4: Be consistent. Never make threats you don't intend to carry out. (That whole "I brought you into the world; I'll take you out" thing may be funny, but it's foolishness.) Always carry out the (reasonable) threat. If there is any way possible, both parents need to be in full agreement. And never, never discipline in anger. If you're mad, they'll be getting away with it. In that case, you're the problem.

I noticed a few things as a parent who disciplined under these rules. I noticed that when my children knew that I intended to carry out the threat I made, they rarely felt the need to press it. So I rarely needed to actually carry out the threat. When I did have to escalate the situation to the end, I needed to make sure that they understood I loved them. They were used to being hugged while they cried from the discipline. I can't remember ever having to repeat that discipline for that event. And in the end, when I asked my kids, "Did you ever think, 'Dad doesn't love me'?", they were quite sure that they were loved.

I agree that physical discipline can be abused. I agree that it is possible, even easy to spank out of anger. But I draw the line there. You see, if the Bible teaches it (which is unavoidable if you read it for what it says) and your motivation is love (which is an equally clear command from Scripture), then it must be both possible and good to discipline your children ... including corporal punishment. Maybe it's not easily understood and maybe my wife and my step-daughter don't get it, but if I have to choose between their opinion and the Word, I'll take the Word.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chasing the Dream

Do a search sometime on "pursuing your dream" and you'll find site after site offering you help, encouragement, and guidance on how to reach your dreams. It's all the rage today. You know how it goes. You have a dream; now, go out and get it. Don't let anything stand in your way. Go, man, go! These sites will help you see that you are the only thing standing in the way of your dream, that fear is the only obstacle, and that nothing is worth you giving up your dream.

Funny thing ... I don't find any articles on evaluating your dream. It appears, in today's world, that we can conclude two things about your dreams. First, whatever you dream of doing is of paramount importance. Nothing else compares to the importance of your dream. Second, whatever you dream of doing is good, apparently by virtue of you having dreamed of doing it. You want to be the world's best safe cracker? Do it and let nothing stand in your way because whatever you dream is the most important thing and because it's your dream, it's good.

I would like to think that by my simply saying it you'd see the folly of the idea. I'm concerned that a lot of Christians have bought into the world's perspective on things and won't see it. I'm concerned that some Christians would read that last paragraph and say, "Well, yeah, basically, I think that's true."

There are two things we can see about this concept as Christians. First, we are told that we are not the center of the universe. We know that self-centeredness is the primary sin, that "I will be like the Most-High" is the basic concept of sin, and that the basic tenet of Christian living is not "Love yourself", but "love others". For some reason we seem to be able to speed-read right over Paul's command in Philippians without slowing down at all when he says, "Consider others as more important than yourselves" (Phil 2:3). Really? That's completely counter to our society's viewpoint. And it's completely counter to the "pursue your dream at all costs" viewpoint. The other thing we can say without question is that human beings are sinful. As such, it is a guarantee that our dreams will include sinful dreams. We will assume goals and desires that are wrong. Pursuing the dream without first evaluating the dream is a foolish thing to do.

There are, in fact, very few dreams worth pursuing at all costs. I can think of a precious few. I can see that the dream to "gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith -- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death" would be a goal worthy of pursuing at all costs. I would think it obvious that the dream of becoming a doer of the Word and not a hearer only would be a laudable aim. I would agree that shooting for godliness and holiness would be a worthy goal. Much beyond that, though, and you're treading on dangerous ground that could very easily cost you and those around you far more than God would intend. Consider, then, your dreams. "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?" (Luke 14:28). Count the cost. Consider the prize. We have far more dreams that are not in line with God's desires than dreams that are.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Where's your head at?

Despite the improper grammar, we've all likely heard this question at some time or another. Apparently we're daydreaming or thinking of something besides what we're doing and we make a mess of it. It's not uncommon to have some kind soul snarl, "Where's your head at?"

A few days ago I wrote about what we are to think about. Okay, to be fair, I asked about what we are to think about. The other day a few verses came to mind that seemed to be related to my question. The first comes from Proverbs. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov 23:7). It's a fairly straightforward and reasonably observable phenomenon. You've seen it, I'm sure. You've likely even done it. You know those folks who always see the negative side of things ... and are negative people. You can show them positives and all they will notice is how bad things are. The things they think about and the way they are correlate. There are some, albeit much fewer, who are the opposite. They are the eternal optimists who can only see the silver lining. But, again, what they think about and the way they are correlate. It seems, in fact, that there is some wisdom here from Solomon.

The other two verses are interrelated. The first is from Paul. "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Col 3:2). I have been told, "You're too heavenly minded to be any earthly good." Paul would say, "Well, no ... you are supposed to be heavenly minded." But we get a clearer glimpse of what exactly "things that are above" would reference in a passage from Isaiah. "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You" (Isa 26:3). This is an interesting verse. It doesn't say that perfect peace comes from thinking about God on occasion. It suggests a place for your mind to stay rather than a place to visit. The result of keeping your mind steadfast on the Father is that He keeps us in peace. Truth be told, I left off the rest of the thought in Isaiah's version. He actually says, "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock" (Isa 26:3-4). It isn't what God does for us that gives us peace. It is who He is -- an "everlasting rock".

Where's your head at? Nearly everyone knows that Jesus walked on water -- even unbelievers. A lot of people don't know that He wasn't the only one. Peter did, too. Peter isn't so well known for it, though, because Peter failed at it. According to the passage, when Jesus came walking across the water in the storm, the disciples were afraid. So when He told them, "Don't worry; it's Me," Matthew tells us:
Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt 14:28-31).
Note: "Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water." Impressive, isn't it? So what went wrong? "When he saw the wind, he was afraid." When Peter had his eyes on Jesus, he had no fear. He was in perfect peace because he trusted Jesus. It was when he got his eyes off Jesus that the circumstances frightened him and he ran into trouble.

Where's your head at? Are you beset by troubles? Are there tough circumstances in your life? Maybe the economy has affected you. Maybe you're worried about political issues. Maybe you're having marital difficulties. Some of you are concerned for the Church. Many of you have family members in trouble. There are, indeed, storms raging around us. And, let's be honest, these storms are frightening -- genuinely scary. Where's your head at? Remember, "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You." Circumstances can indeed be dire, but nothing falls outside of the capabilities and trustworthiness of God. So, "set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" because "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he."

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I am. I'm narrow-minded. So many other people around me are so much more open-minded than I am. I'm stuck here in this narrow line unable to think as freely as they do. Such a pity!

I, for instance, can't seem to think my way out of an Aristotelian logic bag. Basic Aristotelian logic says "A thing cannot be both A and not A at the same time and in the same sense." Silly me. That seems unavoidable. Still, lots of people I know have no problems holding ideas that are indeed A and not A at the same time and in the same sense without batting an eye. They're happy with "God is sovereign and He proves it by giving up His sovereignty to Man's Free Will" or "The Bible is true and reliable but it has errors" or some such ideas. And its not just theological questions. I try to makes sense of whatever I'm thinking about, but a lot of the people I know aren't particularly concerned if it makes sense. They just think it. Forget logic. So, I'm narrow-mindedly logical while others are free to flit about in all sorts of illogical but infinitely more comfortable directions.

I've already examined the Bible at great length. Is is reliable? Is it supportable? Is it reasonable? Having come to the conclusion that it really is reliable, supportable, and reasonable, I'm stuck (again) with this narrow-minded view that the Bible is the sole source for matters of faith and practice. I'm perfectly content to discuss Scripture with someone as long as we're in agreement that Scripture is right and the misunderstanding between us is our misunderstanding of Scripture, but when I end up in a conversation with someone who tells me "The Bible is wrong in places", my narrow-mindedness gets in the way. We're done. You have your basis (whatever you choose to think for whatever purposes you choose to think it) and I'm stuck with mine (whatever the Bible says and means is true). Again, if you're free to manufacture truth statements from your own opinion and desire, it's much a much broader way of thinking than my narrow "Whatever the Bible says is true", and I'm, again, stuck with this narrow-minded thinking.

There are lots of things that narrow my thinking processes. I'm not free to entertain the idea that 2+2 is not 4. I'm not free to wonder what I will do if gravity suddenly stops and I drop an apple. I'm not going to be arguing that adultery is a good thing or that stealing is right. I will never understand how a parent can justify beating a child to death.

I'm narrow-minded. Bound by all sorts of fences of truth, logic, and facts, I'm stuck in this narrow row of how I can view things and how I can understand things. I can try to explain them to you and I'm happy to do it, but I'm not free to toss out truth, logic, or the like to free up my thinking. Such a pity!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Looking for the Hand of God

We Christians really like those "happy verses" in Scripture. A favorite is "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28). Mmmm, just makes you feel warm and loved, doesn't it? Very comforting.

One of the popular things we do when faced with difficult circumstances is to use that verse as a springboard to find the hand of God. You know how this goes. We will either ask ourselves or, more often, try to work with someone else who is undergoing the hardship, to see if we can figure out what God is doing. We'll take that rotten ol' dark cloud and find that pretty silver lining because we know that God causes all things to work together for good. Yeah, that will make us feel better. So we'll start guessing. Maybe God intended to do this or maybe God is doing that. Maybe He's working in someone's life through your event or maybe He's trying to teach you something that you need to learn and if you only learn it He'll stop bringing all that pressure to bear. (That's one of our favorites.)

I'd like to point out that the verse doesn't say that. The verse doesn't say that we know what the good is that God is working out. It doesn't say that you can figure it out or that you'll ever know. It says we know it, and that's it.

You see, we tend to look at the temporal for the eternal. Instead of looking at the moon, we focus our attention on the finger that's pointing at the moon. God isn't saying, "Figure out what I'm doing." He's saying, "Trust Me." Our comfort isn't best found in tracing God's hand in our lives. It is best found in trusting His character. When we begin to trust God for who He is rather than for what He's doing for us, we have solid footing toward contentment in all situations. That's a good place to be.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


One would think it would be fairly easy. See an idea. Discuss it. Come to conclusions. What's so hard about that? Well, the difficulty is that the people doing the discussion are ... people. You see, if you tell me that the idea I'm arguing for is a stupid idea, I have been insulted. I hold the idea. The idea is a stupid idea. Therefore ... I am stupid. You mean, rotten person! And I'm no longer discussing the idea; I'm defending my honor. Now, you never actually said I was stupid. Indeed, you didn't even think it. If you recall, we were discussing that idea. So you're confused by my vitriolic response and feel the need to defend yourself. So the whole discussion of an idea goes out the window because of ... perceptions.

The truth is that our perceptions so often get in the way of our dialog. It's a common problem. Unfortunately, the most common cause of this common problem isn't "the other guy". It's us. We tell ourselves certain things about ourselves (generally good things) and then someone implies something different and we're at odds. I suspect that usually the thing that sets us off is something we told ourselves about ourselves that, at some level, we question. So now you are questioning it and I already questioned it ... but I don't want to, so we're going to war. You see, if you tell me, "You're a lousy scientist", I'm not going to bat an eye because I'm not a scientist at all. I recognize that I'm not a good scientist. But tell me "You're a lousy father" and I'm going to face a dilemma. I like to tell myself I am a good father and I like to think it's true, but I have reasons, often suppressed, to make me question it. So now we're both questioning something I like to tell myself isn't true and I'm going to have to fight hard to demonstrate to you (and me) you're wrong.

Paul told us that we are supposed to be "speaking the truth in love" (Eph 4:15). I would imagine that this command would include what we tell ourselves. In Jeremiah 17:9 God says,"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" So, while we are commanded to speak the truth (motivated by love), we have a heart condition -- we're liars. Our hearts are so deceitful that we even lie to ourselves ... without realizing it.

There is often, on one hand, a sharp difference of opinion regarding our condition. You may tell yourself, "I'm a pretty good husband. I help out around the house. I take out the trash when she asks and I'll help her with dishes if she asks and that sort of thing. I'm a pretty good guy when it comes to being a husband." I wonder if your wife would agree. "He doesn't seem to do anything around here. Oh, sure, if I pester him, he'll do something, but I want him to want to help out. All he wants to do is sit around and watch TV. If he was a good husband, he'd want to help me out because he loves me." Who's wrong? Well, I'm pretty sure both are lying ... to themselves. He has set up a standard that is not her standard and he feels he meets his standard pretty well. The fact that it's a faulty standard will not be factored into the evaluation. She has set up an entirely different standard that may not even be realistic and finds him wanting by that standard. The fact that it's not even realistic will not be included in her conclusions about his merits as a husband. With this example you can begin to see how arbitrary standards and varying points of view will alter the perceptions about you and your genuine condition.

The worst problem occurs when we consider things from our standard rather than from God's standard. I tell myself, "I'm not such a bad person; look at those rotten people on the news these days!" And I'm lying. I'm not a "good husband", a "good person", a "good employee", any of these things by God's standards. That standard is perfection, and Jesus alone qualified as "good". The only correct response to "How am I doing?" from God's standards would be "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!" And the only hope we have is imputed righteousness, a righteousness applied to us that is not our own and did not come from us.

But ... we're most often not likely to see ourselves in that light. We're fairly good people. God is required, since we are reasonably good folk, to be nice to us and to care about our happiness and to ... well, you get the idea. We are not bad people and God would be wrong for treating us as bad people. Everyone knows that. And we prove once again the deceitfulness of the human heart and the failure of our own perceptions.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sugar and Children

My daughter and I had a conversation the other night about, of all things, the effects of sugar on children. She, like all parents, is convinced that if you give a child sugar, it will make them hyperactive. I mean, come on, everyone knows that. How could you even suggest otherwise?

Well, I did. I told her that it wasn't true. It told her that science has studied the question and found no evidence linking hyperactive behavior in children to sugar. She, of course, didn't believe me. Evidence aside, you only had to watch her kids get out of hand, bouncing off the walls after eating ice cream in the evening, and it was irrelevant what science said. They were wrong and she was right and we were done.

So I researched the question again, just for my benefit. I was fascinated by what I found. First, to be clear, it is obvious that excessive sugar in a child's diet is a bad thing. What effect does sugar have on kids? Well, it tends toward obesity, increases the risk of diabetes, tooth decay, that kind of thing. Bad stuff. Don't do it. But, the question wasn't, "Is excessive sugar good for kids?" The question is "Does consuming sugar make kids hyperactive?"

The studies were all agreed: Sugar is not responsible for hyperactivity in children. Fine. But why is it that it is a nearly universal belief that sugar makes children hyper? The studies weren't silent on that question. There are various explanations. Some experts believe that it is real "because parents are convinced it exists". In other words, they're looking for it and they find it. One study found that teenagers who habitually drank sugary sodas had higher rates of hyperactivity. The problem was that there was no link to cause and effect. Did the sodas cause the hyperactive behavior? Or did they drink a lot of sodas because they were hyperactive? And if it was the soda, was it the sugar (or, perhaps, the caffeine, for instance)? You see, not helpful. One researcher suggested, "It's due to parents' expectations of what behavior is likely to be after kids eat a lot of sugar." That is, either the parents are looking for it and, therefore, find it, or, maybe it's that the parents anticipate it and that anticipation produces a response in children.

In one study they found that the subjects whose parents identified their children as sugar reactive tended to display more disruptive behavior than those who did not. Another suggestion is that environment rather than diet causes the problem. Often the hyperactive behavior occurs right after dessert. You've "tied down" your kid for twenty minutes while they eat and then you set them free after they're done. They "go crazy" because they've been released, not because they had dessert.

There are two interesting things I see here. First, the apparent aim of the discussion is to explain why it is that "my kids misbehave". Certainly it's not a matter of poor discipline. Clearly it's a product of what they ate. If we could just avoid giving them sugary foods, they'd be well-behaved kids. Do parents really believe that? These days, I think they do. The other interesting thing is more general. Why is it that science is convincing when it agrees with us, but tossed out when it doesn't? Lots of these same parents would argue against ideas that are non-scientific because science didn't support them. But many of the articles repeatedly warned against trying to convince parents they were wrong. They were right, they knew they were right, and don't try to convince them with the facts or anything. Interesting ... at least to me.