Saturday, January 31, 2009

You Can't Say That

For as long as I've been discussing and writing about all things "Christian", I've been faced with a dilemma. You see, there are far more people who are called "Christian" than who actually are Christian. Now, I didn't make that up myself. Jesus said it.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven ..." (Matt 7:21)
(In the past I've referred to this as one of the scariest portions of Scripture. It still is. I highly recommend you read Jesus's entire thought on the topic -- Matt 7:13-27.)

According to WND, a recent Barna poll illustrates my point. This poll says that half of those who call themselves Christians don't believe in Satan. One third of them believe that Jesus sinned. Other "certainties" that they've dismissed are the command to share their faith and any notion that the principles that the Bible teaches are accurate. An earlier poll said that 75% of those who classified themselves as "born again Christians" also denied any absolute truth. Other polls say that it is an extremely popular view among "Christians" that all roads lead to God. In other words, there is a staggering number of "Christians" who are not.

But, you see, I'm not allowed to say that. It's "incorrect" to question another person's salvation. "Who are you to say?" We can't ask the question ... the one we've asked for centuries. "Are you saved?" "Are you a Christian?" "Have you been born again?" We've tried to ask it in multiple ways to differentiate between the "professing Christian" and the real Christian. In the early days it was a simpler question. It was in the form of a fish drawn in the dirt, and it was a fearful question because if you answered "Yes" to the wrong person, it could cost you your life. Today, of course, it's more "fashionable"... as long as you're not that kind of Christian ... you know ... the one with actual, biblical beliefs.

As much as people would like us to think otherwise, Christianity has a definition. There are differences between Christianity, "professing Christianity", and other religions. And, the author of Christianity -- Christ Himself -- said that there would be those who profess and even think themselves Christians who are not. You may raise your hand and object. You may insist that their view of "Christian" is just as viable as mine. But eliminate miracles (a common thing among "professing Christians") including the Resurrection and you eliminate Christianity. Eliminate Christ's sinlessness and you eliminate Christianity. Assign Christianity to a mere level of "social gospel" or "moral teaching" and you eliminate Christianity. Take the Bible out of the equation and you have ... well, nothing to stand on.

I don't actually like it much better than you do. Nonetheless, it remains a fact. Not everyone who calls themselves "Christian" are. There are big names who represent Christianity to many who are not, themselves, Christians. There are people in every arena of life, from janitor to pastor, from student to seminary professor, who claim and even believe they are Christians who are, in fact, not. Now, if there is indeed genuine Christianity and it is wrongly proclaimed by these false believers, is it not our obligation to hold out for the truth, to defend the faith? I don't like pointing out false believers as false believers, but I like less the assault on Truth that false believers entail. So I'll continue to stand on genuine Christianity against the false.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Make a Defense

But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:14-16).
At least part of that should look familiar. It should look familiar because I use it often enough. The phrase "always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks" is a key one for me. It is, to me, a command to be rational, thinking Christians, a command for Apologetics. We need to be prepared to give reasons for why we believe what we believe. And the phrase "yet do it with gentleness and respect" is equally important to me. We need to be prepared to defend the faith, but we need to keep gentleness and respect for others in that defense. All well and good.

The other day this whole passage struck me in a new way. It didn't nullify my understanding, but it sure did expand it. The topic is not "Apologetics", but suffering. How do we handle being mistreated? Well, we fight back! No, that's not what he says. We need to be prepared to give reasons for what we believe, but Peter speaks about gentleness and respect. That doesn't seem to be "Fight back!" And we need to keep our own consciences clean. Suffering for doing something wrong is to be expected. So, if you're suffering, the first question would be, "What did I do wrong? Do I need to apologize?" (Again with the apologetics, eh?)

There are two key issues built into this passage that offer more than "make a defense". The first is a heart attitude: "In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy." When you are mistreated or suffering and you're not at fault, the first item on your checklist is honoring Christ as holy. He is beyond sin. He is "other". He is above the mess. He is holy. The King James says, "Sanctify Christ in your hearts." Of course, we can't make Him holy, so the idea is recognize Him as holy. Bless Christ. That's the first response to suffering for the sake of righteousness.

The other point that it made I seemed to have missed. I always saw the "make a defense" part and the "gentleness and respect" part, but look what we're defending with gentleness and respect: "the hope that is in you". Maybe I didn't word that as well as I could. The concept that Peter is giving here is that we who know Christ and live as we should for Him ought to have such an other-worldly hope that people just have to ask about it. "Things are going so bad for you. You are being unfairly treated. You are being abused. And yet ... you have an attitude of hope that makes no sense to us. Why is that?"

I still believe the passage (and others) calls us to defend the faith. The interesting thing in this one is the focus on our hope. Have you been asked about the hope that lies within you? Have you been asked, "Why are you different in the face of hard times than we are?" Has anyone ever been struck by the hope you have that they clearly don't? If not, why not? It could be because we tend to work like the world, finding our own means of sustenance and support when we are supposed to lean on Him. It could be that they don't ask about the hope because they don't see it. Now that is something to consider.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Wrong Question

As Christians, it seems like we have a tendency to ask the wrong question when it comes to making decisions about what we are or are not going to do. The question we tend to ask is "What's wrong with ...?" The question hinges on a central attitude. This attitude says, in essence, "I want to do as much of what I want to do as I can. Where are the limits?" Take, as an example, the problem of television. Now, I suspect that many readers will find that the moment I use the phrase "the problem of television", their defenses will come up. And what will be the first question that we ask, almost without thinking? "What's wrong with television?"

The truth is that there are answers to that question. We are all aware, I'm pretty sure, of the problem of the message. The television medium is primarily controlled by sinful people with sinful intentions. They are not going to be furthering the purposes of God; they are promoting sin. Thus, standard television content includes sins of all types presented as "normal". Further, any depiction of Christian values is generally in mocking, derisive terms. "Oh," you assure me, "I can avoid the error of the message by either not watching that stuff or by properly filtering, examining, and rejecting it." Well, that's fine, but there is a further difficulty. The medium itself is its own problem. It is designed as entertainment in half hour increments with limited depth of content and interspersed advertisements. By its nature it cannot give depth, exposition, careful analysis. It offers skewed perceptions that life is easily solvable, that reality is short bursts, and, most of all, that amusement is the most important thing. So devastating is this medium that many churches have felt the need to drop serious preaching and conform their gathering for worship to brief, pithy entertainment. Further, television divides rather than unites. That is, while you may choose to all sit in the room and watch the show together, it is highly preferable that you all remain quiet so as not to interrupt the show. That's hardly "family time", even though many of us may call it just that. I recently heard someone giving their evaluation of a TV show they were discussing. "That's two hours of my life I'll never get back," he said. Another problem, then. Wasted time. All of this without considering the physical impact. There is the problem of obesity, aggravated by the fact that we sit motionless in front of a screen, apparently glued in place. There is the problem of wear on the eyes that seem to need their own exercise of focusing on distant and near objects, short-circuited by the monolithic device we watch. (Still think TV has no negatives? How about the government now moving to delay the changeover to digital because some people might lose their signal? When did television become a need? I even read a phrase I cannot as yet decipher: "lifeline TV service".) And this is just the tip of the iceberg. What's wrong with TV? Lots!

My original point, though, is that we're asking the wrong question. If it is true that the primary, God-given purpose of human beings is to glorify God, then "What's wrong with it?" is the wrong question. The right question is "What's right with it?" More precisely, "How does this (whatever it is) help me in my purpose of glorifying God?" Take television, then. How does my watching television assist me in bringing glory to God? I'm stumped with that one. (When I thought about "What would I do if I turned off the TV and sought to do something to glorify God?", I thought about maybe going to the neighbors to share the Gospel. You know, it's likely they wouldn't appreciate that so much because I'd be interrupting their favorite show. You see, TV divides, not unites.) It is very difficult for me to come up with the remotest possibility of how we Christians can watch TV to the glory of God.

Television is only a singular example. Life goes on. We can debate "What's wrong with drinking alcohol ... you know, if you don't get drunk?", but the real question should be "How does limited alcohol intake help me to glorify God?" We can argue about "Does the Bible really forbid smoking?", but the real question must be "In what way does smoking glorify God?" The question, in fact, ought to be applied to everything I do.

As Christians, we're well aware of the problem of sin. We know that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." It is, I fear, a bit short-sighted to stop there. The accusation in Romans 3, for instance, is much broader. "'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one'" (Rom 3:10-12). We have in this diatribe the problem of sin. "All have turned aside." Sure. But there is so much more. Righteousness is not merely the avoidance of sin; it's doing what is right. Understanding is not merely knowledge of what's wrong; it's positive understanding of what's right. The accusation is "No one does good." We aren't merely commanded to avoid sinning. We are commanded to glorify God in all that we do.

When we start asking, "How does what I am doing glorify God?", it changes things. If the thing is sin, it cuts it out entirely. If the thing is morally neutral, it clarifies. (It is, for instance, possible to do some things with the motive of glorifying God or not. If the motive is to glorify God, it's positive. If it is self-interest, then it's not.) Some things are even "morally positive." As an example, a man may love his wife (obviously a good thing) to avoid sin (wrong motive), to make her happy (wrong motive), or to glorify God (the only right motive). Finally, when we come at life's choices with the intent to glorify God, it tends to provide clarity of direction. Avoiding sin is simply a small part of that direction. Glorifying God, on the other hand, gives purpose, power, and joy. There might be some benefit in answering, "What's wrong with that?" I think that the better question is "What's right with that?" It will send us in positive directions, assist us in making Jesus Lord of our lives (rather than trying to live at the minimum), and aim us at God's intended purpose for our lives -- glorifying Him.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

To Live and Die

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil 1:21).
I'll be honest. For a long time that statement by Paul was one of the really difficult things for me to comprehend. Part of the reason it was hard for me was because it appeared so straightforward. He wasn't using hyperbole or symbolism. He wasn't speaking mysteriously at all. He seemed to say just what he meant. So ... what did he mean?

The truth is that I had no problem with the second phrase at all. I know ... a lot of people trip over that one. Not me. I understood that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). And, seriously, what in this world could possibly compare with being present with the Lord? No more sin. No more failure. No more sorrow. Instead, the unending, uninterrupted bliss of the presence of my Savior. What could be better? No, I understood "to die is gain". What I didn't quite get was "to live is Christ." What did that mean? It's not as if Paul didn't tell us. "If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me," Paul says in the next verse. So, "to live is Christ" is equated somehow with "fruitful labor". But how was that "Christ"?

And then, eventually, I got it. Reading farther, Paul writes, "I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again" (Phil 1:25-26). Paul explains his "fruitful labor" -- "your progress and joy in the faith". That is "fruitful labor". Of course, that's also the labor of Christ, isn't it? Isn't that exactly the process which we call "sanctification"? Isn't it what God does in us (Phil 2:13)? Isn't that the work of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)?

Figuring out what Paul meant by "to live is Christ" was satisfying. Still, it turned out to be unnerving as well. You see, Paul appears to have a singular aim. He's not worried about food or clothing (Phil 4:11-12). Suffering (Phil 1:29-30), imprisonment (Phil 1:12-14), a "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor 12:7-9), and all manners of hardship (2 Cor 11:24-30) are good things to Paul. The best thing to Paul was death itself (Phil 1:23). So Paul's primary concern in life was that he imitate Christ by working for the progress and joy in the faith for those with whom he came in contact. It was unnerving, then, because I know that's not the case with me. I concern myself with where my next meal is coming from. I care if I'm comfortable. I have lots of distractions from a sole concern for the progress and joy in the faith of others around me.

I guess, then, that the reason it was so confusing to me in the first place was that it was so foreign to me. And, I suppose, I need to get to work on that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Measuring Success

How do you measure success? Well, of course, it varies, based on what you're doing. If you're in business, success is more income. A decrease in income is a failure. If you're in politics, it would be something like getting elected. If your opponent is elected, you failed. For the military, it would likely be something like winning the battle. Losing the battle is a failure. For a lot of pastors, success is "more people" and failure is "less people". These are not intended as absolutes; they're examples.

There is something in all of them that is common, but I think my question of measuring success gets in the way. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "success" as "The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted". That definition, then, would actually be required to explain how success is measured. You see, in business, for instance, the goal is primarily to increase profitability, so if you meet that goal, you are ... successful. In every case, success is measured by achieving the goal.

The question, then, becomes a question of goals. Is it a good goal or a bad one? We wouldn't, for instance, consider a "successful thief" a good thing. His goal was to steal as much as he could without getting caught. We don't want that kind of success in our society. And the real question is what is a good goal or bad goal for Christians, since we are to be "in the world but not of it". If, as I claimed in my recent post, the Creator's purpose for His creation is to glorify God, then the only "good goal" would be a goal that achieves that purpose and a "bad goal" would be one that is counter to that purpose.

Now, perhaps, we can begin to see some light when it comes to a Christian evaluation of success. "More income" isn't in line with "glorify God" unless it is intended as "more to give away" -- a step in the ultimate aim. Conversely, "less people" for a church is not necessarily "failure" if the goal is "glorify God". How can I say that? Well, if you, like me, would classify the Crucifixion as success, how many people did Christ have with Him at the time? His disciples left Him, if you recall. So in what would have been classified by many pastors today as a mind-numbing failure based on numbers, Jesus was successful. The goal of the church isn't numbers; it is to bring glory to God primarily by equipping the saints. So a biblical measurement of success for a church is "equipped saints" as opposed to "lots of people".

Well, I'll leave you to start realigning goals and how to measure the success of those goals. Clearly for a Christian the goal is different so the measure of success will look radically different. In this scenario, Isaiah succeeded by faithfully telling the people what God said even when he was promised no one would listen (Isa 6:9-13). Jeremiah succeeded by faithfully warning Israel even when they were all carried off in captivity, failing to repent. Peter considered it success when we share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:12-13). What looks like "failure" to the world may not be failure to God and His people. Keep that in mind as you look at the goals and measures of success in reaching them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Whatever You Do

Last Sunday I wrote about "Christian Liberty" or, to be more accurate, the idea that we ought to always be acting on the basis of faith rather than on our own preferences and directions. I would like to briefly expand on that this week.

Paul wrote something that is quite stunning:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
The passage here (similar to the Romans 14 passage) talks about not giving offense (1 Cor 10:32). Paul affirms "All things are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Cor 10:23). His main point, of course, is that we shouldn't do things that offend the conscience of others (1 Cor 10:28). Yes, we all get that. And, to be quite honest, most of us transgress that. Still, to consider that the primary point of the passage is to miss the broadness of the statement.

Look again. "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." It is an amazingly wide statement. Working backward, it says, "Do all to the glory of God." Now, now, does Paul mean "all"? You know, there are many ways to read "all". It could be hyperbole -- exaggeration to make a point. It could mean "all of a particular kind or group". In this case, it seems as if Paul is using "all" to mean ... well ... all. "Whatever you do." We, of course, know better. There are things that we do that have no bearing on "the glory of God" ... right? I mean, when you choose to wear the black pants over the blue jeans, what does "the glory of God" have to do with it? If you choose Cheerios over Total, what does "the glory of God" have to do with it? If you pump gas or make widgets, what does "the glory of God" have to do with it?

It seems to me that Paul is contradicting us here. By specifying "whether you eat or drink" as a function of glorifying God, it seems to me that our every choice is predicated on "the glory of God". You can eat glorifying God or you can eat not glorifying God. You can work glorifying God or you can work not glorifying God. You can dress glorifying God or you can dress not glorifying God. Whatever you do ought to be predicated on glorifying God.

I remember seeing that at work when I was growing up. I know that for most Christians you go to church on Sunday morning, then you go home and eat lunch. (It was "dinner" for us -- the big meal of that day.) That is, there is church (for "the glory of God") and then there is eating lunch (unrelated to "the glory of God"). I remember, though, when my parents would see Sunday afternoon meals as an opportunity to invite someone from church over to eat and fellowship. They chose to eat and drink to "the glory of God".

That's a single example. We need to work on it around the clock. There is no "secular" versus "sacred" for the Christian. We are to be glorifying God in season and out of season. His glory is our Number One issue. (Lest you think I'm making too much of it, Paul repeats the concept elsewhere apart from "avoid offense". See, for instance, Col. 3:17.) Sure, we want to avoid offending people as much as we can, but if we stop at "avoiding offense" as our primary purpose, we've missed the point. The point is singular and broad: "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

I would think that this, the Lord's Day, would be a good time to start ...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Parable

I stood back and watched as they gathered around. She was late 40-ish, quite erudite, he a mid-30's and looking all the philosopher, and the younger one pushing 30 and trying to look wiser than his years allowed. They stood at the painting and stared, striking pensive poses. She spoke first.

"You can clearly see the dance," she said, with the earpiece of her glasses touching her lips. "It inspires a sense of passion, of dance, of exultation."

"Oh," the younger one said, "I don't see that at all. It seems to me to be an image of a battle. You can see the collisions of man and machine, the spilled blood, the fallen. It's a very violent picture."

"Strange," the other fellow piped in, "I don't see any of that." He turned his head to one side. "Clearly there is a flame, a fire, if you will. And there are shapes suggesting sexual images and innuendo. Clearly it is flames of passion."

I watched and listened because I was amused. I knew that the artist was an elephant named Tao. I knew that the artist didn't have dance or war or sex in mind. I knew that these three, with their wisdom and understanding of art, had no clue what the artist intended with the painting. I knew that we may guess at intent all we want, but the actual purpose of a painting is determined by the artist, not the interpreters.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why Am I Here?

Back in 2002, Rick Warren wrote an extremely popular book, The Purpose-Driven Life, in which readers were taken on a 40-day spiritual journey to discover the five purposes for human beings: Worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. The book built on Warren's previous The Purpose-Driven Church. (As it turns out, the same five purposes were for the church as well.)

It is a common question: "What is my purpose in life?" We want to know why we're here. We want to understand what it all means. We don't want to believe that life is meaningless, that everything happens for no reason, and that I personally have no purpose in the grand scheme of things.

When you consider "things", that which is, it comes down to something quite simple. There is Creator and there is the created. That's all. Indeed, the created is a pure product of the Creator, having its very existence supplied and contained in Him. The Creator defines the created and, as the "artist" so to speak, gives the created its purpose. That which is created doesn't get the option to determine its own purpose. That's the sole right of the Creator.

What does the Creator say is the purpose of human life? "For by [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him" (Col 1:16). For Him.

There are, I have no doubt, sub-purposes, so to speak. Worship is good. Fellowship, discipleship, all that stuff is good. They are, however, sub-purposes -- beneath a singular, overall, encompassing purpose that the Artist has given to His work. That singular purpose is to glorify Him. We might argue about some "social gospel" or Man's inhumanity to Man. We might debate our dominion over the earth or our "purpose" of saving the planet. We might come up with individual "purposes" where we seek and "find myself" (Where were you hiding?) and what I want to do. All well and good (perhaps), but there is an all-consuming, overarching purpose for human beings, and anything that operates outside of that purpose, as good as it might seem, is a waste at best and a disaster at worst. Despite the creation's best attempts at arguing our own purpose, the Creator is the only one who actually gets to decide. You might want to see if your idea of your purpose in life coincides with His.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Slope Slips

File this under "It had to happen."

According to this MSNBC story, "Defense for polygamists cites gay marriage". The argument is simple. "'If (homosexuals) can marry, what is the reason that public policy says one person can't marry more than one person?' said Suffredine, a former provincial lawmaker."

"Oh, that ol' stupid 'slippery slope' argument! That won't happen!"

Sure, except ... it has.

For those who would like to argue "Changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples won't pave the way for polygamy (or other variations)" (and would do so in the face of the fact that the argument is being made), I still have to ask ... why? Laying aside any alarmist "It could pave the way for other variations!" which we might (okay, actually do) throw at the discussion, my question is "Why?" What makes you think it won't happen? No, more to the point, on what basis would you prevent it from happening? If you argue that human beings have an intrinsic right to marry (and then you redefine "marry" to include "same sex"), on what basis would you then forbid marriage to multiple spouses (or animals or his favorite automobile)? I'm not trying to offer an argument here. I'm asking a question. If the measure is "I have the right to marry as I please" (again, requiring a knowing and intentional redefinition of "marriage"), on what basis would you prevent marriage on any basis whatsoever?

Well, according to MSNBC, the slippery slope argument, often erroneous, turns out to be entirely accurate in this case.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Plausible Christianity

Plausible: having an appearance of truth or reason; seemingly or apparently worthy of approval or acceptance; credible; believable; apparently valid. Are you getting the idea behind the word "plausible"? It's not a statement of truth or not. It's a statement of perception. When we say something is "plausible" we mean "It appears to be true" or something like it. In other words, it is possible for something to appear to be true but is not and still be plausible but false. On the other hand, it is also possible for something to be true even if it doesn't appear to be true, and that would be true but implausible. Okay. I've beat that horse to death.

So ... what about Christianity? I'm not talking here about it's truthness (yes, I made that word up). It is true. No, the question I'm addressing to Christians is how do we make it appear true? How do we, as we seek to spread the Gospel, make it appear to onlookers as credible, believable, valid?

Well, to answer that question, I'll go in the opposite direction. A lot of people today believe that Christianity is not true, not plausible. Some of that, of course, has nothing to do with us. It's the nature of humans (e.g., 1 Cor 1:18; 2:14). Some of it, though, certainly does have to do with us. Why do I say that? What have we done to contribute to the perception that Christianity is not true? Ask yourself: How many times have you heard people object to the truth claims of Christianity with this premise -- "Well, the Christians I've known have been real jerks!" Feel free to substitute other descriptives for "jerks" -- "unreliable", "immoral", "just as bad as anyone else", and so on. What we have contributed to the problem is that we haven't been lights shining on the hill (Matt 5:14-17), reflections of Christ to the world. No, we have talked the good talk. (Get it? A play on words. "The good talk" as in "the Gospel". Oh, never mind. If I have to explain it, it loses its humor value.) We tell people, "Come to Christ. He can change your life." But do we reflect changed lives?

Have you ever met someone who, at first meeting, you just know is a believer? I don't doubt you have. I don't doubt most people have. They're stand-outs, exceptional characters. They exude love. Oh, they may be opposed to all the same sins you are, but when they oppose them, you can just tell that they do so out of genuine concern rather than other selfish motivations. They don't seem to make a show of their differences -- they just are different.

They generally have similar traits to one another. Besides being virtuous people with genuine integrity, they seem to have similar demeanor. They genuinely care about people. There seems to be a quiet but undeniable "joy fountain" in them -- an inner sense of contentment and a ready smile. They don't seem to be easily ruffled by life's vagaries. Instead, they patiently exhibit kindness to everyone. They are just, well, good. You can rely on them. They aren't loud or abrasive, but easy to get along with. They have real self-control. Oh, wait, let me reword that list: They have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Sound familiar?

What is plausible Christianity? It is that Christianity that is lived by believers. To the extent to which we allow the Spirit to work in us, we become more plausible. It is when you find yourself in an upward spiral that changes your everyday life. Peter put it this way:
Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love (2 Peter 1:5-7).
There are some "Christians" who are not genuine believers. I get that. If you are a genuine believer, then -- a genuine Christian as in "follower of Christ" -- your goal, your longing, your passion must be to imitate and reflect Christ in your everyday living. The more of us that actually reflect Christ because we allow the Spirit to bear fruit in us and work with God as Peter says, the more plausible Christianity becomes to onlookers. And isn't that really a good idea if we intend to share the Good News with them? If you want to share the truth of Christ with people, surely you don't want to also be a key reason they don't find it believable, do you?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Democratic Church

Have you ever contemplated how much of the American political perspective has crept into the American Church?

Think about it. What is the fundamental premise of American politics? Well, okay, perhaps that's too hard. But what are some of the key components? Well, there is the concept of the "inalienable rights" of the individual. There is the "one person, one vote" concept. There is obviously that whole "liberty" thing -- you know, freedom from tyranny and all. Oh, we've also worked in a "separation of Church and State" thing and a natural dislike for authority. (We consider it a "necessary evil", so to speak, so we tolerate it, but we don't like it.)

However, it has not always been thus. In earlier times there was a different synthesis. The first immigrants to this land had a radically different view. From their perspective, there was a top-down structure. There was the State. There was the society -- that is, the local town or city. That local town or city was built around a primary building -- a church. And there were families. Where did individuals come into this? Well, sure, they were the primary components, but their role was not self-interest, but family, church, society, and State. For instance, when a family moved to a town, the father didn't think, "What can I do to make a living?" No, his approach was "What can I do to contribute to this society?" A person was identified with their family. Families were identified with the Church. Did you know that before the American Revolution the State used to collect the tithe? And it wasn't optional. It didn't matter if you were part of the local church; you paid anyway. In turn, the State paid the ministers and maintained the churches and such.

Enter the American Revolution. "No Sovereign" was a flag flown in protest to England's heavy hand. In the name of "their Creator", the Colonials rebelled and threw off the yolk of the British king. We know their heroic stories. And what we most admire was their individualism, their maverick nature. But it started to leak from there into American Christianity. Just as it was admirable to be individualistic in politics, it started to become vogue to be individualistic in Christianity. No more of those musty old creeds and confessions. No more catechism. All that structure was too much like slavery. No, no, freedom of religion was what they wanted, and by that they aimed for individual religious experience. It wasn't what you knew, but how you felt. Theology and doctrine wasn't so important as whether or not you experienced God. The goal wasn't to "make disciples" or teach them everything; the aim was to have them "make a decision for Christ". The facts about which they were deciding weren't as relevant as the fact that they decided.

Today, of course, we've come to see this largely as normal. We don't see "church" as something to which to be committed. (In too many places, "family" is a bit too much of a commitment.) We aren't part of a church; we go to church. And, look, we've got options, right? I mean, there are lots of churches to choose from, so we go around picking the one we like and if it eventually doesn't thrill us anymore, well, there are other choices. We are, after all, not part of a church; we to to church. What is most important? Well, experience, of course! We still largely reject creeds and confessions. We don't care much for a lot of doctrine and the like. Oh, hey, how does a guy get to be pastor in most churches? Well, it's a little bit of a process. Usually a "pastor search" committee goes out and rounds up some good candidates. These candidates come and preach at the church and then everyone votes on who will be the next president ... oh, wait ... I'm confusing my stories here ... pastor ... yeah, that's it.

Funny thing. I don't find any of this in my Bible. Sure, we are called as individuals, but we are portrayed as part of the structures in which we live. We are husbands and wives, fathers and children, slaves and masters, neighbors. We are under a governmental structure. Personal enrichment doesn't occur by grabbing what we can, but by giving all we can to those in our structures. And nowhere do I find an account of a pastoral search committee that went and found folks for the local congregation to vote on. (Where does that come from? Oh, yeah -- American democracy.)

I have to wonder. It appears that the American Church has conformed deeply to the world of American politics. Is that actually what we're supposed to do -- conform to our world? Or could it be that there was a wrong turn somewhere back there? I ask because I'm thinking that the Church ought not be a democracy for individuals, but a theocracy where individuals submit to the Master. But, hey, maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

The media is beaming. "This is an historic day!" They are expecting twice the number of people to show up for this event that showed for the previous record -- Johnson's inauguration. The amount of money being spent on this event is stagggering. And why not? It's an historic event!

Now, to be up front and clear, this is not about politics. It is not about who got elected. My concern here is not any of that stuff, so don't go there. I'm thinking about something else.

"Discrimination" is a bad word to most of us. There is, however, a definition of the word that isn't evil, but standard -- we all do it. That definition is something like this: "the power of making fine distinctions". When we pick out a bird's song from the cacophony of a city, that's discrimination. We can find the tall guy in the crowd by discrimination. Terms like "almost", "not quite", and "exactly" are terms of discrimination. We need discrimination. It tells things apart from other things.

So what is it that makes this an historic event? What is it that discriminates this day from others? Well, the answer that the second question is that we are installing President of the United States. That doesn't happen every day. But, while this day is different from most in that respect, there is a shower of praise being laid out that makes this an historic event instead of just another Inauguration Day. What is it that discriminates this inauguration from all the previous ones? Well, it's abundantly clear -- we've elected a black president.

How sad! There is so much to be said. Some might say, "We've elected the worst president ever" or "We've elected the best president ever." That's not what makes this event historic. Some might say, "He'll save us from our problems" and others might say, "He'll destroy the country." That's not what makes this event historic. There's his plan to save our economy -- some are suggesting it will cost something in the area of $8 trillion, a phenomenal impact to our debt -- but no one is offering that as our reason for considering this historic. There is Obama's selection of religious folks that will be at the event. He has a conservative Christian, a gay bishop, a female pastor, three rabbis, and the head of the largest Moslem organization in the country (who is also a woman) participating. That doesn't make this historic. (But, seriously, doesn't that sound like a set up for a joke? "A conservative Christian, a gay bishop, a female pastor, three rabbis, and a Moslem woman all walk into an inauguration ..." I guess you'll have to supply your own punchline.) Indeed, he has been spoken of in terms approximating the Messiah, so much so that he and his supporters have made jokes about it, but that's not what makes this historic.

What makes this event one of the biggest in American history? His skin color. Well, sure, it's that we've elected him to be the most powerful leader of the free world, but it's historic because he's a black man. I never much cared about his skin color. Whether he was red or yellow or pink wasn't part of my decision-making process. I, like the idealist some make me out to be, like to think that a man is a man, that skin color is irrelevant. And then the world throws this in my face. "It's one of the biggest events in our history because we elected a black man to be president." Sigh. I hoped that we had gotten past all that racial discrimination, but that's still the fine point that makes this president distinct from all the rest, isn't it? It makes me believe that racism in America is more prevalent than I would like to think. I wish it were not so.

Monday, January 19, 2009


The civilized world has all but accepted Evolution as the answer. It is the starting place for most. It is a given. You have to work from there. If, for instance, you hold, "I'm a Christian and I believe the Bible", then you'll need to defend Genesis. "How does that correlate with Evolution?" It's often the first question you'll get. You see, Evolution is true and we work from there.

On the other hand, polls of American views seem to disagree. One such survey in 2005 said that some 51% of Americans still believed that God created humans, while 30% held that God controlled Evolution to make us what we are today. Only 15% held that God had nothing to do with it. A more recent study says that the 15% is now up to 61%, apparently as a backlash against the insurgence of the "Intelligent Design" movement. Astonishingly, nearly 40% still hold to a Young-Earth Creation view.

We could account for that by sheer stupidity, I suppose. If we were more charitable, we'd likely say that it's the product of the unfair sway of Christianity in America. Richard Dawkins considers faith a "virus of the mind". It's a sickness, a malfunction, something that ought to be treated and eliminated because, well, it's bad. And while stupidity (people that don't actually think about it) and upbringing may account for some of it, I have to wonder if there aren't actual reasons to question Darwinian Evolution as fact. I'd like to suggest a couple of possibilities.

The first reason to question the prevailing scientific position is that the prevailing scientific position questions itself. No, I'm not talking about the word "Theory" that is included in "the Theory of Evolution." I get that the materialists of our day don't see this as a "theory" as in a possible idea, but rather a "scientific theory" as in a given premise from which to operate. No, I'm talking about science. If science is based on what can be tested and proven, then science is having a problem with Evolution. First, there was that whole "Darwin's finches" thing. Darwin observed what he considered to be proof that finches on the Galapagos Islands demonstrated Survival of the Fittest by observing the changes in beaks as environment changed. What science later discovered (and Darwin missed) was that the beaks changed back as environment changed back. Thus, it was evidence of adaptability (so-called "microevolution") but not a shift to new species (some call it "macroevolution"). Anyone can see microevolution, but that whole macroevolution thing (the core of Darwinian Evolution) isn't really working. (Of course, the fact that Evolutionists still point to the finches as proof suggests a problem, doesn't it? I mean, if the experimental evidence disproves the premise, don't you discard it? No, apparently not.) Another famous proof was Haeckel's drawings of embryos. You see, it proved that human embryos looked just like every other embryo. Of course, even in his day it was known that Haeckel fudged his drawings. Even Stephen Jay Gould, an evolutionary biologist, agreed that the drawings were false and misleading. What proof, then, do we have of Evolution? Well, there is the whole fossil record, you know. Oh, wait, that's a problem, isn't it? While Darwin argued for a gradual transition, paleontologists shot that down. The fossil record, instead, argues for long periods of no change with sudden, radical shifts. Thus, the so-called "Cambrian Explosion", where most of the major groups of complex animals seemed to suddenly appear. It is odd, however, that, as in the case of Darwin's finches and Haeckel's embryos, most textbooks (and Evolutionists) seem to ignore the fact that the data disagrees with the conclusions. And there are other problems. Science has tried for decades to reproduce Evolution in the lab. Can they create life in a test tube? Can they demonstrate Evolution in fruit flies? Well, no, apparently. All the efforts have failed. Despite early success in creating amino acids in the laboratory, they haven't been able to get to actual proteins. And, although they can alter the genetics of fruit flies to produce variations, none of the variations were good variations. It would seem scientifically that if the data disagrees with the hypothesis (in this case, Evolution), then the hypothesis should be questioned (if not discarded). Face it. Evolution cannot be tested and proven.

The second reason to question the prevailing scientific position is that the ramifications are terrifying. Given "All that is occurred by physical means" (eliminating the God hypothesis out of hand) and "Survival of the Fittest", we come to some horrendous but unavoidable conclusions. First, we human beings are simply a step in Evolution. We are biochemical bags, our brains simply computers of meat. What we do, choose, think, feel -- all is a program installed over time by Evolution. Your ideas of "human value" and "free will", of "higher consciousness", "creativity", "emotion", they're all false perceptions. We're just machines. The things that exist in our minds and perceptions today are products of Evolution, themselves part of that collection known as "the fittest" because, well, they have survived. Your values and even that quaint concept of "morality" are not real; they are convenient lies you tell yourself, the actual product of physical forces through time. And that whole "God" thing is in the same category. "Evolutionary Psychology", the analysis of human psychology through the Evolutionary lens, tells us that it is our genes that make us selfish. What makes a young mother kill her baby? It's in our DNA. Rape is simply based in biology which is based in Evolution. In short, Evolution explains ... and excuses ... all human behavior. We do what we do because we're programmed to do it. There is no "right or wrong", no morality. Truth is simply what works for you. All well and good, and it should give you the shivers to even think about, but in this is another reason to question Evolution. It's not actually simply because the conclusions are terrifying. It's that they don't work in every day life. You see, if what you hold as true doesn't actually work, you have to question if it's true -- or, like so many devout Evolutionists, settle for a contradictory perception. "Sure, it's a lie, but it's a good lie. No, there are no real values, dreams, hopes, virtue, no real purpose for humans, but we must live as if there are."

Science likes to tell us it's right and we who have "faith" are dreamers not dealing with reality. There are, however, reasons to question the prevailing worldview of Evolution (I've only listed two -- there are more) and, frankly, Christianity is not without reason or evidence. So, is it really true that we are the ones who are not dealing with reality? When "Science" refuses to admit to the evidence or live by its own standards, is it really wise to hang onto it as today's "god"?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Christian Liberty

"Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Rom 14:23).
This phrase is the last thought of Romans 14. Romans 14 is the famous "Christian Liberty passage". What is "Christian Liberty"? For those of you who don't know, the doctrine of Christian Liberty says "That which is not expressly forbidden in the Bible is allowed in Christian living." Nice. Of course, that's not what Romans 14 says, but that's the idea.

What does Paul say in that passage? Paul warns against quarreling over opinions (Rom 14:1). Some who are "weak in faith", in Paul's example, might hold that Christians should be vegetarians. No such command is given in Scripture. The one who is not "weak in faith" believes he may eat anything. So let's not pass judgment on what people eat. That, in essence, is Christian Liberty. In another example, "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom 14:5). That's Christian Liberty.

Now we come to the verse above. Oddly, a lot of Christians read it backwards, so to speak. They seem to read it, "Whatever you believe ("faith") to be okay is okay." That's not what it says ... at all. The topic of the passage is not "I can do whatever I want" but "Don't pass judgment on others when there is no clear command". Not the same concept. So what is Paul saying in that phrase? Well, it's pretty clear, isn't it? Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. That is, if you are doing something and it is not based on faith, you are sinning.

Think about that for a moment. I know. The topic is "Christian Liberty". This, however, is actually quite narrow. Maybe you think you need a better job so you can provide a better house for your family. That is "not of faith". That is a personal drive. Maybe you think that it's a good idea to put off having children until you're more established financially. That is "not of faith". It's a personal drive. There are many things -- things that seem morally ambivalent -- that we do every day that are simply motivated by our own preferences, not by faith. And Paul says, "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."

I know. We think "Wanting a new car or a good job or a better house is just normal", and our thought is "How can it be sin?" It's a product of worldly thinking -- conforming to this world. We are to be in this world but not of it. It is possible to want those things for the purpose of furthering the kingdom. I may desire a more reliable car for my wife as a product of loving my wife (a command that, in fact, requires faith). I may try to get a better job to provide for my family's needs (a command that requires faith). But simple desires for personal gain or comfort simply for its own sake ... does it fall in the category of "faith" or self-interest? If it's simple self-interest, it is "not of faith" and, therefore, sin.

When you talk to God today, you might want to bring that up with Him.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


One of my favorite movies is The Court Jester, a 1955 Danny Kaye classic. Danny played Hubert Hawkins, a circus performer who dreamed of being "The Fox", a Robin Hood-type character. Unfortunately, beyond being entertaining, Hawkins lacked all the skills and courage required to be a swashbuckling hero. And so it goes. At one point, Hawkins was hypnotized so that, when he heard the snap of fingers, he believed and acted as if he was actually a brave knight and would revert when he heard it again. One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when the bad guy, Sir Ravenhurst, decides Hawkins is the Fox and engages him in a sword fight. Amidst random finger snaps ("I could finish you like that!") and such, Hawkins switches between hero and coward, swordsman and circus performer. As a cowardly circus performer, Hawkins swordplay is perhaps best described as "a sword fight". He isn't fighting Sir Ravenhurst; he's fighting Sir Ravenhurst's sword. He would normally have no chance of winning this engagement, you see, because he wasn't making any attempt to stop the swordsman who faced him. He was too busy fending off the sword.

Too often that's exactly what I feel like I'm doing in conversations with people. Someone will raise an objection to my beliefs or lob a "question" (intended to show the problem with my beliefs) and I'll be forced to deal with the objection or the question. The truth in many cases is not that these are serious questions or objections. In fact, if you listen long enough, you'll hear the same ones regurgitated over and over. It's like there's a script out there, a list of objections and questions for skeptics. "Here, pick one and throw it at a Christian and see if it sticks." It doesn't matter if it has been answered (repeatedly). You still need to fight the sword.

Why do I call it "fighting the sword"? What makes me think these are something other than genuine questions or objections? Well, for one, I know people. I've done it myself. People often (I'd suggest more often than not) use these things as smokescreens. "Lay down a cover while I retreat." They don't actually intend to engage. Your answer is actually irrelevant. It's simply intended to keep you off balance. You will likely never hear, "Good answer!" They aren't looking for one. For another, most of these objections have good answers. Question asked and answered. But that doesn't seem to matter. And a third reason is that I've seen it too many times. Perhaps it's a rebellious young person eager to slip the leash of his or her parents. "I'm a free thinker! I don't need their religion!" Of course, what he is actually rejecting is something different, but that's not the point. As long as he can keep you answering questions or objections, you'll never address the real point -- his rebellion.

Frankly, at the bottom of the pile, that is most often the "swordsman" in this fight: "I do not want to submit." Oh, of course it's typically God to which they don't want to submit, but it's rebellion nonetheless. So they thrust and they parry and they try to dazzle you with their swordplay and you're forced to fend off the sword instead of dealing with the swordsman.

There ought to be a solution to that. I'll have to think about it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Devaluing Values

Ask just about anyone -- Christian or not -- and they'll almost certainly agree with this idea: "Science has nothing to say about faith, and faith has nothing to say about science." Even if you're not an anti-theist -- someone dedicated to fighting Christianity -- you'll likely agree that science and faith don't mix. For most that's just fine. Science is about the natural world and faith is about the supernatural world and never the twain shall meet. You science folks go right ahead with whatever you want to do and we "believers" will keep our faith inside our private lives. That's good, thanks.

The problem, of course, is that it's wrong. It's wrong in multiple ways. Let's look at a few.

Modern science actually got its start from religion. Christians like Copernicus, Descartes, and Hobbes believed that if an Intelligent Being created the universe (you know, like the Bible says), then it would likely be logical. They believed they were "thinking God's thoughts after Him." Science and religion were working in harmony. They would have been confused by the assertion that the two -- faith and science -- have nothing to do with each other.

A second problem emerges because of the issue of premises. Today, science is premised on philosophical materialism. Science presupposes that all things in nature occur by purely natural, mechanistic means. In fact, science today militantly defends that position against any suggestion of the supernatural. They claim that it would undermine science itself. Note, however, that it is a premise, not a finding. It is a philosophy, not experimental data. It is a presupposition, not a result. As such, it is ... faith.

The third problem is for Christians. We believe that God created all things, that He sustains all things, and that all things are for Him. Then ... we cut out "science" and say, "Well, almost all." This, of course, is irrational nonsense. We either must believe that "all" in those premises means "all" including science or we must ... well, radically modify who God is. There aren't any other options.

The other difficulty that occurs here is one of values. By putting "faith" (and its resulting "values") in the "personal and private" realm and "science" in the realm of "natural" and necessarily apart from God, we actually devalue values. If you argue, in fact, as so many in the realm of science do, that all things are produced by natural, physical means, then you have to concur that human beings are produced by natural, physical means. "Yeah? So? That's exactly what we're arguing." If we are produced by natural, physical means, then human beings are simply bio-chemical bags operated by meat computers that we quaintly refer to as "brains". They're natural derivations running on millions of years of nature's programming. Like a computer, we might have the appearance of actual thought or feeling or will, but it's an illusion. Like the "supernatural" and "faith", "values", "morality", "ultimate purpose" and all that are, ultimately, lies, a myth we tell ourselves to make us feel better. It's a useful lie, likely very necessary, and we should keep it around, but it is a lie.

The final problem is for Christians as well. You see, it's not ... Christian. A biblical worldview starts with God as Creator. Human origins are defined as coming from God. In fact, they're defined in historical terms, not merely an abstraction. A biblical worldview sees the question "Why is there so much evil in the world?" as a viable question with an actual answer -- the Fall. The obvious follow-up question, "What can be done about it?", also finds an answer in a biblical worldview. A mechanistic worldview ultimately has no suggestion for actual origins, no answer for evil (or even the option of allowing for it), and no means of correcting for it. Christians, on the other hand, point to a historical event called "The Resurrection" and say, "That is an answer to the problem."

Many Christians, steeped in the world's perceptions, think that they can save Christianity from an apparent conflict with Science by disconnecting from Science. The result, however, is that none of your values count, none of your faith is real, and none of what you have to say can actually be taken seriously to a world built on an a priori faith that accepts naturalism as its god. On the other hand, the Bible suggests that Science -- all that is -- has its origins in God. If this is true, faith informs science and God isn't "a personal place", but the starting place of all of life's pursuits, values, and meaning.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's the fix?

We're in a serious economic crisis. We all know that. The sky is falling. Wall Street is coming down. Congress is thinking that throwing $800 billion at it might help. Or not. While President-elect Obama is saying (now) that he has a plan, his original position was more genuine. "I don't really know how to fix it. We'll just keep trying things until it works." There are those theories and these ideas, but the truth is, I suspect, no one really knows how to fix it. The problem is that it's so big. There is the housing problem and the employment problem and the banking problem and the falling stock market problem and the public fear problem ... oh, you get the idea.

I have my ideas. I think I might have a notion of how to fix the problem. And I'm sure it would work ... except it can't be done.

The problem is in locating root causes. Some are saying that it's a failure to regulate the market. Some argue that it was faulty bank loans. Still another side suggests that it happened when banks were forced to make loans to people who couldn't afford them. And then there are those who argue that it's a problem with greedy corporations. I don't know. That sure looks scattered to me. There doesn't seem to be a cohesive thread. Or is there? I think there is -- people.

I can tell you what would fix this problem. Change people. Eliminate the entitlement mentality of some. Eliminate the greed of others. Redefine "need" for most of us to more closely align actual need. Change the mindset that says, "I deserve better." Inject people with the joy of giving rather than getting. Shift thinking from "individual is the ultimate" to a sense of community. Change the focus from wealth to family. Make personal integrity a valuable commodity rather than a laughable one. Renew the neighborhood concept.

I don't think anyone could disagree that a fundamental change in human nature would fix the whole thing. "Can't happen" is the first response, of course. But I think there was more of this mindset in times gone by. I wonder if we're being as progressive as we like to think.

Of course, bottom line, it's not possible to fix people like that. You can't just say, "Why can't we be like we were before?" It's not going to change people. And what brought about that change from the earlier mentality? That would have to be fixed, too. No, it's not something at which we could throw a program or on which we could pile some money. No, this is a God thing. Changed hearts make changed lives. And only God can change hearts.

Oh, we may pull out of this mess. Give us a few years, a few trillion dollars, a bigger national debt, tighter regulations ... oh, we may well survive. People will still be greedy and sneaky and manipulative. We'll still fly our economy by the seat of our feelings. It's a less-than-optimistic approach, but I suppose it's more realistic. What a shame! I like the God option better.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

We Know Better

Have you noticed the shift? Maybe. Unless you're as old as I am, you may not have been around long enough to detect it. But it's there, and it's real.

The shift I'm talking about is in the perception of reality. I am quite sure that the change started long before my day, but it's still quite visible in just the last 50 years. When I was growing up, religion was part of life. You went to church on Sunday. Your parents stayed married because that's what was required. No one questioned "In God We Trust" on our money. Science and religion didn't actually hate each other ... you know ... like now. We were religious and it was fine.

The shift (which actually started way back before I can even explain, I suppose) has moved our society into a two-tier system. On one tier you have "facts", those things that we know to be true. On the other tier we have "values". Now, where we used to have a large set of shared values, today the "values" tier is one of extreme personal preference. The idea is that we can all have our own set of values and that's fine, you know, whatever your values might be because, after all, they're not facts. We went through some metamorphosis that put a dividing line between the two. I suppose the biggest effect was in the tide of relativism which still washes over our society's thought processes. So we managed to move "facts" away from "values" and concede that there are no absolutes when it comes to values.

This shows itself very clearly when Christians succumb to the "facts are facts" premise. Very often, instead of questioning the facts, they will choose instead to try to correlate biblical truth to "facts". You see, facts are indisputable, so if the Bible doesn't seem to line up ... the Bible is wrong. Oh, no, we don't actually admit that. It's just the danger. So we'll have to explain why it is that the Bible actually aligns with the facts. And as more and more "facts" seem to contradict the Bible, the Bible moves further and further away from anything resembling "Scripture" or "reliable". You know, we have to move from the known to the unknown. We know facts; the Bible isn't a book of facts. That seems to make sense ... except too often the facts aren't quite ... factual.

Here's an example. The National Post did a story on a study in the journal of Pediatrics that suggested "Virginity pledges may not affect sexual behavior." The study compared teens who had made such a pledge with teens from similar backgrounds who had not. It turns out that there was little difference between the two groups. "See? The results suggest that the virginity pledge does not change sexual behavior." And the world rejoices. "Proof! All that 'abstinence' stuff doesn't work! There it is in cold, hard fact. Take that, values!" And we're expected to nod and back off and realize our error that our values were wrong in the face of the facts.

But wait! Is that right? As it turns out, The Wall Street Journal followed it up with a look at the reaction of the Press to the story. "Here's the rub" they say. "It just isn't true." As it turns out, the study compared conservative, religious teens with conservative, religious teens. One group took a pledge and the other didn't. The result? Very little difference. "See?!! That's what we said!!" No, wait. When compared with the rest of teens, it turns out that both of these groups are less likely to engage in risky sex, less likely to have teenage pregnancies, less likely to have premarital sex at all. In other words, it turns out that if you raise your kids with biblical values, it seems to make a difference in how they live their lives. So ... what does that say about "abstinence only" education? Nothing at all.

You'll find, if you examine viewpoints even lightly these days, that "facts" are king. Whether or not they are actually factual or reliable is irrelevant. "What we think we know" will, these days, always trump "faith" and "values" because we're much smarter than we used to be and don't we know it! What science discovers is trustworthy and what the Bible says is mere opinion. What we can determine about our world through experimentation is concrete and that whole "morality" thing is just a matter of preference. And don't you go trying to change it! Sadly, when Christians buy that line of thinking, they're in a downward spiral that is hard to correct.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Spirituality Trumps Religion

Spirituality trumps religion -- that's the story. Spirituality, it seems, is definitely conducive to happiness while religion is not. I know ... you're saying, "Huh?" Or, at least, I did. So the article helpfully defined religion as an "institutionalized venue for the practice of or experience of spirituality." Oh, thanks. I got it now. You see, it is the personal and communal aspects of spirituality that make it fulfilling. And I really loved this quote: "Some people say they are spiritual but are less enthusiastic about the concept of God."

The article is in a digital magazine called Live Science, so I am somewhat surprised that they even admit that spirituality is conducive to happiness. You know ... "science" is stuff we know and "happiness" ... well, that's just a human convention, a Necessary Lie. But, okay, so they're admitting that "spirituality" has some effect on the perception of happiness. But what, really, is the difference between "spirituality" and "religion"?

The difference is that spirituality is a nameless void. I'm not entirely making that up. Remember, "they are spiritual but are less enthusiastic about the concept of God." In other words, it's merely a sense of something ... else, something beyond the physical. Religion, on the other hand, tries to hang "reality" on that ... sense of something else. It gives doctrine, makes truth claims, includes a truth system. Yeah ... that will never do. You see, spirituality is much better. It has no truth claims, no doctrine. Hey, it doesn't even need "God". It's just a warm feeling toward something outside of the existence that we know. Sigh. Just makes you kind of feel good all over, doesn't it?

The problem, of course, is that our society has so neatly managed to sever "science" from "faith", "fact" from "values", you know -- "reality" from "mysticism" -- that we are very happy to allow meaninglessness as long as its personal. Fact is fact and faith is faith and never the twain shall meet. Of course, just as it's difficult to find a consistent "We only go by the evidence" person, it's equally difficult to find a consistent "faith should make sense" person. So, tell me again ... what are my options? Surely these are not the only possibilities.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Catching Counterfeits

The story is told that the way that the FBI teaches its agents to recognize counterfeit money is to simply have them handle real money. The idea is that if they get used to the genuine, the fake becomes obvious. The moral of the story is this: If you train your children in the truth of Christianity, they will have no problem recognizing the falsehoods of other worldviews.

It's a nice story ... as far as it goes. And I don't know if the FBI method is accurately represented. I do see a problem with the concept. It sounds like a good method, and it certainly lets parents and churches off the hook in fighting off competing philosophies, but it seems to me that it doesn't pass the primary test -- the test of Scripture. According to Peter, we are to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). Recognizing a lie is not the same as defending the truth. That's a problem.

Still, it seems to me that we Christians have largely bought that approach. As we raise our children, we educate them in reading and writing and arithmetic. We teach them right and wrong. We tell them the basics of Christianity. And we consider that "prepared". We intentionally avoid the counterfeits because, well, I suppose there are several reasons. We don't know how to handle them. No one ever taught us how to deal with this stuff. In fact, we've largely been told that faith and reason are distinct and, mostly, enemies. And, to be honest, it's just too much work with our limited time schedule to deal with all that. And we think we've prepared our kids to stand up for Christ in the world.

Having stripped off our responsibility to teach our children how to analyze the world from a biblical worldview and how to counter false beliefs, we then step into today's morass -- the one where we fail to actually make disciples. Our idea of teaching them the truth is largely a shallow approach, as for all Christians, that doesn't really push too far into the Word or deal too much with matters of faith. We'll have nice book studies, I suppose, and watch a few well-intentioned videos, I guess, but it's just too much work to really teach all that Jesus taught (Matt 28:20).

Now we have our young Christians with no tools to evaluate and combat false ideas and no real depth in the truth and we wonder, "Why do so many young people leave home and lose their faith?" I don't know about you, but it's not a real "head scratcher" for me. It's because we're failing them as parents and as the Church.

It is important, in catching counterfeits, that we know what the genuine looks like. It is also important that we know how to deal with the counterfeit. Too much of the time today we are not passing on to our children either of those aspects. Is it any wonder they struggle with the world's competing views?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Too Difficult

I'm reading through Genesis these days. I recently came across the story of the conversation between God and Abraham regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. You remember the one. Abraham said to God, "Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?" (Gen 18:24). Abraham, the first Jew, is busy dickering with God about how many righteous it would take to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. If you read the account, it's pretty clear that God's answer is, in essence, "I won't destroy the righteous with the wicked." All well and good, and I find the story amazing, but the part that really caught my eye occurred before this conversation.

God and two of His angels came for a visit. Abraham showed proper hospitality, and while they were enjoying a pleasant meal together, God told Abraham, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son" (Gen 18:10). In an earlier account (Gen 17) we find the very first reference to ROFLOL -- Roll On the Floor Laughing Out Loud. (It literally says, "Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed.") This time, however, it's Sarah who laughs. "Sarah laughed to herself, saying, 'After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?'" (Gen 18:12). Sarah's secret laugh wasn't secret to God. He responded, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Gen 18:13-14).

It's a fun story and we know the outcome of God's promise to Abraham. Sarah did indeed have a son, Isaac, from whom all of Israel came, including the Christ, Who is the reason that we have been grafted in. It's a marvelous story and we delight in it.

The funny thing is that, while we delight in it, we don't really seem to learn from it. We sit back and chuckle at silly Abraham and Sarah for laughing at God. We know the outcome, so it's easy for us. "You silly characters," we might think, "God is actually going to do what you think is impossible." Why is it, then, that when we're faced with difficulties and trials we seem to think, "It's too hard for God"? We are promised that God works all things together for good. We are commanded to count it all joy when we encounter trials. And we have ample evidence that God does indeed do what He promises -- that nothing is too difficult for Him.

Each of us faces tough times. Maybe you are right now. If not, you will. Rest assured. Nothing is too difficult for God. There is no safer resting place.

"Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Gen 18:14).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Value of Education

Years ago, back when I still had four kids at home, my parents came to visit. They took us all out for dinner. During the meal, my mother noted that one of my sons was meticulously moving carrots over to the side of his plate. Eventually she asked, "Aren't you going to eat those?" "No," he answered matter-of-factly. "Why not?" she asked. "Don't you know they're good for you?" "Yes," he said, "I just don't like them." My father quipped, "See? Education is not the answer."

It was one of those "many a truth is said in jest" moments. You see, a lot of people, Christians included, think that education is the answer. If we can just inform people about their world, themselves, and life, they'll be better people. They'll do what is right. If we just give them the facts of the Gospel and valid reasons to believe, they'll be Christians like us. It's just not true.

I don't mean to suggest that education is not valuable. It is. But there is a duality that occurs in the minds of most people in our society that says something like this. "The mind can be trusted, even if people cannot." Christians affirm, for instance, Original Sin -- that human beings are sinful by nature. Most Christians understand that this problem is at the core of Natural Man. Still, there is a sense that our minds are fine; the problem is in the spiritual realm.

The truth is that sin rots the brain. We see this in Romans 1 when Paul says, "They became futile in their thinking" (Rom 1:21). We see this in Romans 12 when he writes, "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). This sin condition affects the mind. Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9). Sin twists human beings.

This is not to suggest that humans can't think. It simply means that our thinking processes are suspect. We can certainly discover things and learn things and understand things. It's just that we are limited in those capabilities. Let me try a perhaps silly illustration. Let's say that I find an object on the street and take it to a local professor for examination. He puts it through various tests and comes up with his evaluation. "It's a metal object, constructed primarily of aluminum. It is basically rectangular in shape, but with rounded edges. It is covered on one side by various pigments -- white, black, and red paint." And for all that he said, it was accurate. He understood all that, and he was right. However, he failed to note that the black paint was in the shape of an arrow and the red paint was in the shape of a circle with a line through it. He failed to note that the sign had a message: "No Right Turn". You see, the reason he failed to note any of this was because I told him it was an artifact I found on the street, so he wasn't looking for a message.

It's the same with education. We can present facts. We can tell truths. We can even encourage learning and reasoning. But when we start with the core value, "Human beings are perfectly capable of understanding their surroundings" instead of "The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" (Psa 24:1), we'll very likely miss the message. If science, for instance, doesn't begin with "For [God's] invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Rom 1:20), it won't get the message. Can they rightly identify facts about the world? Absolutely! But they won't recognize the message. Faulty preconceptions (what I called "sin") will skew the results and produce faulty understanding.

Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, "He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). There is education and there is thinking and it is of value in and of itself, I suppose, but there are two truths that are ignored when we see them as ends rather than means. First, it ignores the natural condition of Man. Second, it misses the need for guidance by the One who made Man and all that is around us. Unless we get that kind of perception, we'll miss the message and think we're doing fine with our education, thank you very much.

Friday, January 09, 2009


It's a popular term these days, but what is it? A worldview is the framework by which we interpret the world around us. Now, some would like to think that they operate without such a framework. They like to think that there is an unbiased approach that simply takes things as they come. No such unbiased approach exists. Everyone has a framework, underlying principles and assumptions by which the rest of the world is interpreted. Another mistake would be to assume that worldviews can be simple. While we like to talk in terms of a "mechanistic worldview", for instance, that interprets the world solely in terms of naturalistic operations or a "theistic worldview" that sees things in terms of God, actual worldviews are held by people, individuals that tend to complicate things by mixing and matching principles and premises based on individual biases.

We Christians, of course, are supposed to have a Christian worldview. We generally don't, I'm afraid. We are commanded to not be conformed to this world, but most of us come to Christ already inculcated with the world's prejudices. We are told not to love the world, but we start out with that love in place. And every day we are bombarded with the world's perceptions in movies, television, music, news reporting, education, and so on. What we tend to end up with, then, is a hybrid, a mixture of Christian worldview and other aspects as well. We are commanded to "be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2), but we suffer from a deceitful heart that is unaware of our worldly biases. So we might think of things as "secular" and "sacred". Too many Christians see the world of Sunday morning as something different than the Monday through Friday realm. We have a set of values for church and family, perhaps, that differ from the values we carry for work and the rest of our societal interactions. We see science as one side and religion as another. And we often buy the ridiculous notion that "It's okay to have a Christian worldview as long as it doesn't express itself in public."

What does the Bible say about it? Well, we read this of Christ in Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col 1:15-17).
Look at that for a moment in terms of "worldview". What aspect of life and living does that not touch? Christ made all things. All things were made for Him. All things consist in Him. That's about everything, isn't it? Paul said, "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:29). Solomon wrote "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding" (Prov 9:10).

What am I getting at? If we actually believe that God is presupposed ("In the beginning, God"), that He is the primary point of everything that is, that all things consist in Him, and that knowledge begins with the proper attitude toward Him, then it ought to affect how we interpret everything. It is the framework by which we would understand physics, mathematics, biology, all of science. It is the framework by which we conduct church, deal with our families, perform our jobs. It is the framework by which we function in our world. There is no "sacred" and "secular" in this worldview. It is a lie to say "To serve God fully, you must be in full-time Christian ministry." There is no compartmentalizing of work and home and church and society. In this worldview, everything would be premised, understood, explained, and operated from the basis of God.

It's really a big concept, and, likely, difficult for most of us to really get our arms around. You'd have to ... well ... be transformed by the renewing of your mind. How does mathematics, for instance, operate from a Christian worldview? How about family? You would need to pick up every part of life and reexamine it in terms of God. But how important is that? Well, the truth is that your worldview is driven by your god. A worldview that is not premised on the God of the Bible is idolatry. It is important.

So let's do an exercise. Look at the job that you do. Maybe it's homemaker. Maybe it's scientist. Maybe it's mechanic. Maybe you work in the financial arena or the construction industry. Hopefully it's not "pastor" because then it could just be too easy. (I say "could" because I suspect it's possible to miss there as well, judging by the number of pastors who quit.) Whatever it is that you do, ask yourself, "How does my work fit into a biblical worldview?" Or, rather, "How would a biblical worldview change how I see what I do for a living?" You see, there is no separation of secular and sacred in a biblical worldview. What you do is sacred, a calling from God. You are doing what God gave you to do. It is at least one of your "ministries". Your job is part of what you do to work with God in His efforts in this world. So, how can you view your job through a biblical worldview and how would that change your aims, goals, and perceptions on a daily basis? Give it a try. You might find it worthwhile. And we sure would like to avoid that whole "idolatry" accusation, wouldn't we?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Power Grab

In today's world, Christians are not viewed warmly when they take a moral stand. We say, "Homosexual behavior is a sin" and we're intolerant. We say, "People should marry before they have sex" and we're narrow-minded. We declare with our vote, "Marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman" and we're meddling with others' civil rights. "Why don't you be more open-minded?" people ask.

The perception, I think, in the minds of many people is that it is about power. The "right wing conservatives" are trying to maintain power over people by meddling in morality. The reason that many think this is the motivation is, well, because it is. Some people use Christianity as their tool of choice to maintain their power. And why not? I mean, what could be more authoritative than God Himself? Of course, this view completely neglects the fact that Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world" and ignores the fact that Christianity isn't about worldly power. Therefore, those who use this approach do so in violation of ... well ... Christianity.

What is really at work here, if not a power grab? Well, some would argue "Since Jesus's kingdom is not of this world, we ought to simply ignore the world's politics and such. Let them do whatever they want." That sounds sensible to many, but if we admit that God's way is the best way and we are to love our neighbors, it would make no sense to abandon them to these destructive processes. So on what basis should Christians (you know, those who actually want to follow Christ) intervene in world processes?

There are three aspects to this answer. First, I've already hinted at the fundamental reason -- love. If God's way is best, it would seem that we would be doing people a favor by encouraging them to be moral even if it doesn't result in their salvation. It would be a lie to suggest that this morality will make them "better people" or "acceptable to God", but it is the truth to say, "This is a better way to live." It would be in their best interest, then, to engage the world systems of politics, economics, education, and so forth to push a Christian worldview. Second is the Gospel itself. When Paul set out to explain gospel in his epistle to the Romans, he started with the bad news. He didn't sugar-coat it. He didn't pull any punches. We try to many times, but he didn't leave it up for grabs. "Who is good enough to get to heaven?" "No one!!!" He beats that drum for nearly three full chapters. So, to properly understand the Good News, you have to know the bad news. If we allow the world to accept as "normal" that which God calls evil, then on what basis will we be able to call them to repentance? "You're doing this wrong!!" "No we're not." Whether or not they accept the truth, if we hold to it, there will still be ground for the bad news. The third aspect is the one in the Sermon on the Mount. "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16). It's not a matter of power. It's a matter of example. We need to remain engaged with the world, living examples of what is right.

There are certainly those who use religion (of all sorts) as a tool to gain power. That's fine for them. It's wrong for us. Christianity is not about power. It's about a relationship with Christ. We do need to stand our ground. We do need to call for repentance. We do need to maintain good works. These aren't for the sake of power. They are for the sake of those around us. It makes a better world for everyone, gives a place to stand when we call for repentance, and gives us the opportunity to shine by living exemplary lives. Perhaps it doesn't look a whole lot different than those who use it to grab power. The motivation, however, is radically different.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Getting Personal

I used to enjoy stories from World War II pilots. You know ... boys love that stuff. I read one account where a flier was doing great work up until the day that he encountered the actual pilot of an enemy aircraft. He shot down a bomber. As the crew scrambled to get out, the pilot got his parachute caught on the tail of the plane. This fighter pilot saw the look on his face, the terror as he realized he was going down with his craft. And the fighter pilot had to stop flying war missions. You see, up until that point, he was shooting targets. There were aircraft targets and ground targets. There were bombers and fighters and tanks and trains ... but there were no people. These were targets.

I read in another account the difficulty at the beginning of the U.S. involvement in World War II with getting soldiers to fight. They trained just fine back in the States with their round targets. They were good shots. But when they sent these boys into battle, they weren't shooting round targets; they were shooting people. It took something extra to pull the trigger then. You see, shooting targets isn't too hard. Shooting people ... that's another thing.

We live much of our lives that way. On the road, we pass other cars (or they pass us). They aren't people. They're cars. They're large, generally metal, often tinted-glass machines that are either in our way or not, that are either traveling safely or not. If they offend us, we might honk at them because "that car shouldn't have done that!" or the like. Rarely do we actually see them as people.

It's not just on the road. Look at that oncoming crowd of people and it's an oncoming crowd, not individuals. We don't greet them. We don't acknowledge them. We move on through the crowd without making a single connection. Eye contact is forbidden, as anyone in the city can tell you. But we're not really too interested in eye contact most of the time anyway because they're a crowd, "others", not actual people. And, of course, there are those ... oh, you know, less-than-attractive types. The spooky looking guy on the train. The overweight woman at the bus stop. Anyone over 50 on the sidewalk. The homeless guy in the doorway. These are particularly to be avoided because they are, after all, "those". They're not people; they're ... odd.

I wonder what would happen if we made a conscious effort to ... make these into people. You know. What would happen if we greeted the people we passed on the sidewalk? What would happen if we made eye contact and smiled at people we passed? Would there be a difference at the grocery store if we gave a cheery "hello" to the cashier when we walked up? If we waved to passing motorists when we were out for a jog, would they cease being automobiles and start being people?

Studies have shown that laughter is indeed good medicine. It seems, in fact, that the simple act of smiling produces valuable, physical effects that make you less stressed. Of course, the Bible concurs. Solomon wrote, "A joyful heart is good medicine" (Prov 17:22). I'm not trying to make us outgoing types that bother everyone they meet. Still, if we are to love our neighbors, if we are to let our light shine among men, I wonder how far a simple smile would help when offered freely to those we meet in passing. I suspect it would go a long way from moving those we encounter every day from things to people.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Making Good Kids

Our local Christian radio talk show host did a show last week on whether or not it's good to reward kids for being good. He was concerned that in doing so we were simply making self-centered children who did what was good to get something good (or to avoid punishment). What he wanted to know from the audience was "How can parents cultivate goodness rather than merely good behavior. I wasn't able to call in and give him my two cents, primarily because I had a lot more than two cents to say.

I fully understand the concern. How do we make good people out of our kids? When I was younger, my mom and I talked about this. She said that there was a difference between children and cocker spaniels. You see, we can train a cocker spaniel, by reward or by punishment, to do the right thing. We can teach it not to beg at the table and not to mess in the house. Of course, when the reward or punishment is no longer around, what will the spaniel do? Or, more to the point, when you're no longer there to direct behavior (you know, like when they go to college), what will make a child still do what is right? In order to make a child behave after the fact, there has to be something more.

Well, I had to think of what I know about the topic from the Bible. I know, for instance, that Proverbs is full of stuff about raising kids. Most obvious is the classic "train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." So, if the Bible tells me to train my children, I would have to assume I need to train my children. (See? It's not rocket science ... which is a good thing since I'm not a rocket scientist.)

Of course, it would be more helpful if we had a good example of what it means to train children. Does the Bible offer anything like that? Well, it doesn't take long to find the perfect Father. So how does God raise His own? Oddly, it appears that He starts by teaching right and wrong and enforces it by means of ... reward or punishment. He told Israel that if they obeyed they would be blessed and if they disobeyed they would suffer. Now, it might be argued that this was "early training". What about "older" mankind? Well, Scripture seems to indicate that this is always God's way. He warns of punishment and offers rewards. Could it be that reward and punishment isn't necessarily bad in itself?

In the final analysis, however, we find something in Scripture that speaks to the fundamental nature of human beings ... which would include our children. The question was "How do I teach my kids to be actually good?" Paul answers, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Rom 3:10-12). That's no downstream accusation. It goes out of its way to leave no options. Number of people righteous? "No, not one." Number who turn aside? "All." How many parents produce good children? Well, if "no one does good, not even one," then the answer is zero. How do you make genuinely good children? You don't.

So ... how do people get to be good? There is only one way. Here's what Paul says: "It is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure." I would suggest that the way people get to be good is only by virtue of God actually working in them. You can't train them. Parents can't produce it. It's a God thing.

So where does that leave us? Just let them go? Don't worry about it? Back to the example we have, God understands that we are sinners, but He still goes about encouraging us by reward and punishment to do what is right. If the best we achieve is enlightened self-centeredness, we're still well-behaved, which is better than the alternative. On the other hand, if we teach our kids what good looks like, when God enters and begins motivating them and empowering them, the distance to genuine good is much less. I would think that would be an advantage.

One other point I need to make. If we teach our kids that by being well-behaved they have earned something, if we teach them that doing what they're supposed to is genuine good, if we teach them that doing good actually merits something, if we teach them that they're actually good (an example would be to say "good kids don't do that"), we're lying to them. Since our Father uses reward and punishment to encourage good behavior, I'd say that it's good for us as well. That doesn't require that we tell them that good behavior is genuine goodness. That would contradict Scripture, wouldn't it?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Taking Offense

Why does it seem like we are so quick to take offense?

When I used the word "boy" in a brief comment to a black person, she took offense. When the movie, Tropic Thunder, had one actor describe another as a "retard", people took offense. When Martin Scorsese did The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, Christians took offense. Publish comics about Mohammed, and Muslims take offense. This last year, with the presidential contests, it seemed as if one of the most popular tactics was taking offense. Do a story about Hillary Clinton's neckline or make a comment about "lipstick on a pig" or publish a magazine cover intended to satirize outlandish perceptions of the Obamas, and all sides took offense. If a store clerk says, "Merry Christmas", some take offense, but if a store tries to be all-inclusive with the word "holiday" instead of "Christmas", others take offense.

I have to wonder. Are we too quick to take offense? The phrase means, essentially, "to assume to be injured or affronted." But we all know that no one is actually being injured here. I mean, you don't "take offense" when someone punches you in the nose, for instance. That's an actual injury. No, when we speak of "taking offense", we are exclusively speaking of an emotional affront. It is an issue of pride, a feeling of being injured, an assumption of malice.

Look around for quotes on taking offense, and you find some interesting comments.

Abraham Lincoln said, "We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it."

From Rene Descartes we read, "Whenever anyone has offended me, I try to raise my soul so high that the offense cannot reach it."

Napoleon was attributed with saying, "Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence."

One of the more interesting quotes, though, comes from the Bible. In among Paul's description of biblical love we read that love "is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered" (1 Cor 13:5).

All this to suggest that you and I, those of us who call ourselves Christians, might want to consider that we are commanded to love our neighbor, our fellow believers, even our enemies. Perhaps, if we mean to obey that command, we ought to make efforts stop taking offense. I suspect that the offense we take is, most often, not actually intended. And when it is, shouldn't we be above that?